TAXI fares could soon be on the rise for local people and visitors as the new unitary Somerset Council seeks to harmonise the cost of journeys across the county.

The maximum fares were previously separately set by Somerset’s four district councils, resulting in substantial variations in the fees charged to passengers.

Now, the unitary authority which replaced the district councils in April has published proposals to harmonise taxi fares, allowing them to be adjusted across the county at the same time and reduce red tape for drivers.

But in many cases it will mean passengers facing higher fares, as officers admitted they were ‘tending to go up rather than down’ when trying to bring the former districts into line.

A breakdown of the new fares was published before a meeting of the council’s licensing and regulatory committee held in Taunton.

Under the proposals, taxi and Hackney carriage drivers will all charge £4.60 for the first mile and 30p for every one-tenth of a mile or part thereafter.

This means a regular two-mile journey would cost £7.60 – the same as is currently charged in the former South Somerset area, but higher than in Somerset West and Taunton (£6.80),Sedgemoor (£6.80), and Mendip (£7.10).

Passengers will be charged a further £1 for every two minutes they are left waiting in traffic.

Drivers will be able to charge a 50 per cent premium on fares collected on Sundays or on weekdays between 11 pm and 7 am, and double the price on bank holidays, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve between 6 pm and midnight.

Drivers can also charge £2 extra per passenger if more than four passengers are riding, a £100 charge if the vehicle is soiled, and tolls or clean air zone charges as required.

Council licensing manager John Rendell said: “I suspect there will be objections. We know we have some vehicle licence holders, particularly those operating in the Taunton area, who are not fully on board with the proposals just yet.

“I would anticipate that members of the public may not be completely happy with the proposal either, because as we are harmonising, we are tending to go up rather than down.

“It is fair to say that some travellers would notice increases, assuming that drivers charge the maximum – but they do not have to charge that rate.”

West Somerset Cllr Marcus Kravis, whose Dunster division includes several small villages near Minehead, questioned whether the higher fares would lead to fewer passengers and asked how often the new fares would need to be reviewed.

Cllr Kravis said: “Bearing in mind what is going on with inflation at the moment, and the fare increases a few years ago, which were down to fuel costs, do you foresee this coming back again and again.

“We are now getting to the point with taxi services that it is £10 for a two-mile journey.

“If you get a taxi from Taunton town centre to Richard Huish College, that is a ‘tenner’.

“Even for me, that is almost worth walking.

“Maybe not if I had high heeled shoes on, or was drunk, not that I wear high heeled shoes very often.”

Mr Rendell said: “The intention at the moment is that we will periodically review the maximum fares that we set, just to make sure they are at the right level.”

The council’s executive committee is expected to formally adopt the new charges when it meets in early November, and will set a date for when the new charges will come into effect.