Taxi operators challenge council’s fare freeze

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Scottish Borders Council, which licenses 355 taxis and 90 private hire vehicles across the region, stands accused of reneging on a deal over fares.

Now Scottish Traffic Commissioner Joan Aitken will determine if the local authority was right to freeze the flag rate – the amount shown on the meter at the start of the journey – for another year.

An unspecified number of licensed operators in the Borders have lodged an appeal with the commissioner against the decision by SBC’s executive in November to peg the maximum starting fare.

They claim the council should have honoured and applied a formula which was persisted since 2009.

And that, they contend, would have seen the flag rate increase by 7% from December 1, allowing it to rise 15p to £2.30 for a standard car and by 25p to £3.50 for larger vehicles.

Miss Aitken has called a public hearing to resolve the dispute. It will be held next Friday, February 13, in the former Burgh Chambers in Galashiels at 10.45am.

In November, SBC’s executive voted for the freeze after hearing that when the 7% increase was touted at a series of four consultation events – in Galashiels, Peebles, Hawick and Duns – only nine operators turned up.

That apparent indifference was cited by council leader David Parker at the November meeting when he successfully moved that the flag rate should remain unchanged from December 1.

The esoteric formula, which has delivered annual fare increases – both in flag and mileage rates - since it was introduced, has a weighting of 45% for vehicle-related costs, such as fuel prices, insurance, charged and the purchase and maintenance of vehicles, and 55% to reflect local wage levels.

“The council will doubtless say the freeze is justified because fuel costs have fallen, but the weighting for fuel in the formula is just 15% and that has remained constant during periods of high fuel costs,” said a spokesman for the operators.

“We have no doubt that councillors acted improperly when they decided without consultation not to apply the agreed formula and we are confident the Traffic Commissioner will concur.”

An SBC spokesperson told us: “The council will defend the decision taken on November 11 by its executive committee not to increase taxi fares.”