Highland Council has been told it cannot put up taxi fares because it failed to consult with all taxi drivers.
The deputy traffic commissioner for Scotland, Richard McFarlane, yesterday published his decision on the local authority’s plans to increase taxi fare scales following a public hearing in Inverness in July.
His ruling means the previous scale, which came into force in January 2013, will now continue.
In April, the council’s licensing committee agreed to increase tariffs by 30p and to increase the £6.50 supplementary booking charge to £7.50.
But Lochaber taxi drivers, who submitted a petition to the committee calling for the fares to remain the same, appealed against the increase that was due to have been introduced in May.
Taxi driver George MacDougall, of Greyhound Taxis, Caol, Fort William, who collected more than 40 signatures on the petition, welcomed the deputy traffic commissioner’s decision.
He said: “I’m very, very happy with the decision. Every taxi driver in Fort William is very pleased about it, but I don’t suppose Inverness taxi drivers will be happy as they wanted a far bigger increase.
“We’re not in a city. They get year-round tourism and year-round work, whereas we don’t. We only have a short tourist season. We rely on the locals all year round and they would stop using taxis.
“A 30p increase may not sound much but it puts about 10% on the fare from the town to the Plantation and, over a week, that would work out at quite a lot of money.”
He added that increasing the fares would have meant drivers would have had to pay a £60 fee to the council for the meter change and £30 to a meter installer to install the new tariffs.
“It would have meant we had to take 300 hires before we got that £90 back,” said Mr MacDougall.
Inverness taxi drivers were reluctant to comment on the ruling.
However, Councillor Maxine Smith, chairwoman of the council’s licensing committee, said the city taxi drivers would be the “losers” from the decision.
She said: “Basically the traffic commissioner’s decision has taken us back to the status quo, which will please drivers from Lochaber but not drivers from Inverness.
“It means that the taxi drivers will now need to wait for our next annual review early next year.”
The deputy traffic commissioner said the council had not “fully discharged” its legal obligations in deciding to increase taxi fares.
He said the licensing committee’s focus had “undoubtedly been on the Inverness operators”.
In a written decision, Richard McFarlane said: “I do not believe the committee had sufficient information before it to properly review the scales for all the different rural communities in its area.”
He added that it was up to the council to be aware of who was the representative of taxi operators in its area and to involve them in the consultation process.
Mr McFarlane wrote: “The taxi trade is in my opinion to be afforded an earlier opportunity to try to achieve that during the mandatory review of the existing scales, with an emphasis on consultation.
“This is when the committee could have been provided with a fuller understanding of the taxi trade in their area and the issues and concerns that are clearly present with regard to, in particular, the different ‘areas’ in it.”
He added he was in no doubt that the committee arrived at its decision after full consideration of the information that was available to it at the time.
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “We note the deputy traffic commissioner’s decision.
“This will be discussed at the licensing committee meeting on October 7.”