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Business / Changes proposed to taxi age restrictions amid financial pressure on operators

THERE were some differing views in Shetland’s council chamber on Monday regarding a bid to change maximum age limits of taxis amid concern some operators are struggling to afford new vehicles.

The proposal which went in front of members of Shetland Islands Council’s policy and resources committee was for the removal of the existing ten year maximum age of taxi and private hire car vehicles.

There is also a proposal to raise the maximum age of new taxi and private car vehicles from two years to four years.

It has been proposed on a temporary basis pending a wider policy review in light of financial pressures on the industry from the Covid pandemic and also rising costs.

A report to councillors said there was a “real risk of operators leaving the industry due to inability to afford a vehicle that meets the current licensing requirements with respect to age”.

But SIC depute leader Gary Robinson said he was “deeply uncomfortable” about the idea and suggested it would mean the local industry is less regulated.

However Shetland West member Liz Peterson said the proposals could give the taxi industry, which includes a number of small businesses, a boost.

The end result at Monday’s meeting was support for the proposals to be passed, but with a two-year time limit.

This is because the forthcoming wider policy review will address the issue.

However the changes – which have been proposed following representation from the industry – still need to be approved by the full council next week.

Transport policy and projects officer Robina Barton told Monday’s meeting that all taxis need to be checked by the council every year, and this is more thorough than usual MOTs as it also includes aspects like upholstery.

She said the proposed changes should not result in a detrimental impact on the quality of services.

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Barton also highlighted that the Orkney and Highland councils do not impose age limits on taxis.

She warned councillors that if taxi operators were unable to trade it could affect services the council contracts out, such as some school transport and adult social care.

But North Isles member Robert Thomson said he felt removing the maximum age altogether was “unnecessary” and questioned if it would lead to a greater number of older vehicles on the road.

Barton however said: “There’s not a danger I think that we are going to get cars driving around that are not fit for purpose.”

She added that most vehicles will run until they are about ten years old.

The report to members said the overall quality of vehicles has improved since the age restrictions were introduced, “meaning that removing those restrictions will not have the same impact on service quality as it previously might”.

During debate Robinson questioned if the council would “really be regulating anything at all” if the changes were passed.

He also suggested Shetland’s taxi service may have better standards than other areas, saying he once had a trip in one in Orkney where he was told one of the vehicle’s doors was welded shut.

Peterson, however, said if cars were being checked regularly then the changes could prove helpful to the Shetland industry amid rises in running costs.

Lerwick South councillor John Fraser warned against comparing Shetland’s taxis to those in Orkney – quipping that it may prompt letters to the media in both islands – but suggested approving the temporary changes for a period of up to two years in light of the wider review being forthcoming.

With Thomson seconding and no other proposals put forward, the committee’s recommendation will now go in front of the full council next Wednesday.

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