Taxi fares could be set to rise in the new year if proposals submitted to the licensing committee go ahead.
A month-long public consultation in which maximum tariffs and rules for taxi operators will be considered is to be launched next week, with the recommendations coming back to the committee in December. If approved, the price rises will come into effect on 9th January and remain in force for 18 months.
The new maximum fares have been proposed by the Shetland Taxi Operators Association (STOA) and reflect increases in the price of fuel and maintenance.
Chairman of the committee Jim Budge said at a meeting today that the proposed price increases were “not unexpected”.
The greatest price rises, nearly 17 per cent, would be for short journeys. Current daytime prices start at £3 for the first three-quarters of a mile – this would increase to £3.50, a 16.7 per cent rise. A five mile daytime journey would cost £10.30, a 10 mile journey £18.30 and a 20 mile journey £34.30, increases of five per cent, 2.8 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively.
Night-time rates, from 10pm to 6am, would be higher, with a customer paying £42.50 for a 20 mile journey. Christmas rates would be above this and New Year charges higher still, with night-time runs on 1st and 2nd January starting at £5.25 for the first three-quarters of a mile. All fares would be metered and not subject to discretion.
Other proposed rises would be for waiting times, currently £19 per hour or 32p per minute, which would rise to £20 per hour or 40p per minute, and a surcharge of £2 for a fifth or subsequent passenger, currently £1.80. A charge of £35 per hour for acting as a tour guide is proposed.
The draft consultation covers areas such as the start and finish times for different rates, the passenger surcharge and the impact price rises may have on business and evening and social travel.
A question is also to be asked about whether there should be a fixed rate from Sumburgh Airport to Lerwick town centre, and if so, what it should be.
At present Shetland’s taxi fares are at the lower end of the scale compared to other UK local authorities, coming 245th out of 377. The proposed increases would make Shetland’s fares above average, and would place Shetland between 125th and 135th place out of the 377 licensing authorities. Currently St Helens in Merseyside has the lowest daytime rate, £1.40 for the first three-quarters of a mile, with the High Peak District the most expensive night-time rate of £62.86 for a journey of 10 miles.
The committee heard that a decision had previously been taken not to cap the number of taxi licences as many drivers are part-time and it was felt a limit might adversely affect rural areas.
Strict rules govern the granting and renewal of taxi licences, with any convictions incurred by a taxi driver disclosed to the licensing committee. The taxi itself should be under two years old in the first instance or less than eight years old for a renewal licence, with no bumps or scratches. It must be of a certain size and carry a fire extinguisher and first aid kit, and will be subject to regular checks.
In addition a dress code is in force for drivers, who should wear smart trousers (or skirts for women, if preferred) and shirts. Jeans, corduroy trousers, T-shirts and trainers are not allowed. Sumburgh Airport has its own proposed code of practice, drawn up by SIC, STOA and the airport.