Councillors have voted to rubber stamp an increase in taxi fares, after hearing that refusing to do so would result in government intervention.
Scottish Borders Council assesses taxi fares each year using a formula which takes into account trends in the motoring industry such as the cost of vehicle purchase, fuel, and insurance.
In April, the council’s executive committee heard that the formula dictates that fares must increase by 3.7% for the region’s 111 taxi operators.
The new charges will mean a 10-mile journey in a one-to-four-person taxi will go up from £19.59 to £20.32, while a 10-mile journey during ‘anti-social hours’ will rise from £24.49 to £25.40.
At that meeting, councillors agreed to ask the public what they thought about the rise in a consultation.
Although only 12 responses were gathered, nine from taxi users and three from taxi drivers and operators, the anonymous respondents expressed strong views about the rise.
One taxi user wrote: “Taxi charges in the Scottish Borders are far too high and to increase them further is a disgrace.
“Build a rank at Tweedbank station instead of forcing passengers to pay higher costs from Galashiels if heading in that direction.
“Allow Uber in to compete. £17 from Galashiels to Melrose is daylight robbery.”
Another user wrote: “I think the taxis in the Borders are very expensive by comparison to Uber and general cabs in Edinburgh.
“I live in St Boswells and work in Edinburgh. If I want to go out for more than one drink after work and opt to leave my car in Tweedbank, it is very high to get home.
“An off peak return by train to Edinburgh is under £12 and the taxi for a 10-minute ride from Tweedbank to St Boswells is just under £20 in unsocial taxi hours.
“That just doesn’t make sense that the 10-minute ride is more than the return to Edinburgh. I think we should bring Uber here, or to encourage people to come to the Borders more or use our restaurants etc, we need to be supportive of customers, not just drivers.
“There is a lack of competition and I think that is unfair at the moment and doesn’t bring the best for customers.”
One taxi driver agreed that the out-of-hours fare, which adds 25% on any taxi fare after 10pm, needs changed: “We asked that the starting rates go from £2.25 to £2.50 and from £2.80 to £3 when the original 25% was introduced, that’s all.
“It was meant to be on the starting rates only, not the whole fare, but it got mixed up. Some of the after 10pm fares are ridiculous, but this could be cut back to 10%.”
At a meeting of the council’s executive committee, on Tuesday, August 20, councillors were told that refusing to accept the fares would result in the Scottish Government’s traffic commissioner intervening and holding a review of the council’s decision.
This happened in 2015, when the rates last went up, as the local authority tried to stop fares from increasing, but was eventually told by the traffic commissioner that the formula used to calculate the increase was correct.
Speaking at the meeting, Kelso councillor Tom Weatherson said: “Last time we refused a rise we lost the case as the formula was proven to be correct.
“I would propose that going forward, we look at how fares are made up, as it’s very complicated in the Borders compared to elsewhere.
“We have two tariffs, one for rides of one to four people, and another for rides of four to eight people.
“So, if there’s five of you the fare can get very expensive. For example, if five people go from Kelso to Galashiels after 10pm, it would cost around £76 because of the price at four people.”
Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine also spoke against the increase: “I’m against this, especially when you take into account the comments we receive from residents about this.
“The post-10pm rates are ridiculous, as even a taxi driver notes in this report.”
However, the executive committee felt that their hands were tied by the formula and the apparent futility of resisting the fare increase, and voted against councillors Weatherston and Jardine, by five votes to two, to accept the increase.