Yarmouth taxi passengers face a fare old hike

TAXI fares in Great Yarmouth are set to rise for the first time in almost four years under proposals aimed at helping under-pressure drivers and those making short journeys.

Under the proposed changes, and based solely on the day rate, fares will become among the most expensive in the region – second only to Norwich City Council – with more increases likely in April.

But overall the hikes put forward by Great Yarmouth Borough Taxi Association are described as “modest” given the fuel and insurance increases faced by despondent drivers trying to ride out the recession.

Association secretary and legal representative Roy Symonds, of Orion Taxis, said drivers appreciated they were working in a tough economic climate and had opted for smaller increases than were being suggested by some.

If agreed by the borough council’s licensing committee, which meets on Tuesday, day rates will increase by 44p a mile, night rates starting at 11pm by 33p a mile, Sunday rates by 37p a mile and Christmas rates by 9p a mile. Waiting and luggage charges will not change. Subject to consultation the new charges will come into force on November 14.

Mr Symonds said the association’s aim was to review its charges on an annual basis to avoid hikes which were nevertheless modest and represented a delicate balancing act between the needs of passengers and drivers.

“A lot of drivers are very despondent and it can be heard to make a living,” he said.

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“You can have a good Saturday night but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the week.

“There is a good local trade and the oil industry is pretty strong. But the summers are not what they used to be. Holidaymakers used to give us an extra 50pc, now its down to five to 10pc. Some said they wanted a bigger increase but the old person doing a shorter journey is better served this way.”

The proposals involve keeping the starting rate the same but adding 20p at shorter intervals – every 176 yards (one tenth of a mile) – against 200 yards last year.

Three to four hundred taxis working in the town continue to provide vital transport links and are still being used, Mr Symonds stressed.

“We appreciate the climate,” he said. “And if people are not skint they are worried about becoming skint.”

However Andrew Molloy, managing director at Compass Travel, which operates a fleet of more than 30 cabs and minibuses and is based at Gapton Hall, said he was cutting prices by up to 30pc to increase business.

“As a company we think fare increases will drive people away from taxis, not raise revenue. We do not want to charge people any more. The trade is dying down.

“What they are proposing is not a huge amount for people making short journeys in town but will add up over longer trips affecting people in the villages who perhaps have fewer choices.

“We want it to remain a service rather than a luxury,” Mr Molloy said.

Licensing manager at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Linda Mockford said if the proposals were agreed members of the public would be invited to comment as part of a back-to-front consultation procedure laid out in legislation.

Committee members will be asked to consider the views of taxi companies while reaching a decision. Local taxi companies have been asked in writing for their comments but so far only one response has been received from a driver asking for bigger increases. Waveney District Council has recently rejected proposals to increase fares in Lowestoft.

The fares are a maximum and taxi companies are free to charge less if they wish.

The licensing committee meets on Tuesday at 6.30pm in the council chamber, Great Yarmouth Town Hall.