BRIDGWATER could soon have some of the most expensive taxi fares in the country following a decision by the local authority.

Taxi companies from across the town lobbied Sedgemoor District Council for an increase in the fares they can charge, citing rising running costs.

Councillors have voted to approve the fare increase, despite concerns about high booking fees and whether a rise would harm the town’s night-time economy.

Members of the public have only a few weeks to object to the new charges when a formal consultation on the rise is published in the coming days.

The council’s licensing and general purposes committee met to discuss the matter in Bridgwater on Wednesday afternoon (April 10).

Chris Sealey, secretary and treasurer of the Sedgemoor Taxi and Private Hire Drivers’ Associations, said an increase was needed in light of the rising cost of maintenance work and other running costs.

He said: “Fuel prices are about the same now as they were two or three years ago, but everything else has gone up except our wages – we’re all self-employed.

“The nine per cent increase we propose will put us back to the level where we were at in 2013.”

Under the current charging regime (which came into force in November 2013), taxi drivers in Bridgwater and the wider district can charge £2.80 for up to the first 651 metres, with 20p for every additional 155 metres.

This means a ride from Bridgwater railway station to the taxi rank in the town centre will currently cost you £4. There is also a waiting charge of 20p for every 40 seconds.

Under the new proposals, taxi drivers would be able to charge £3 for the first 600 metres and then 20p for every additional 140 metres.

This means the same journey in Bridgwater will cost £4.40, with the same waiting charge as before.

Taxi drivers have also requested that the maximum booking fee which can be added to the fare for a Hackney vehicle (private) hire should rise from £10 to £20.

Mr Sealey said: “It is unrealistic to charge £10 to come from Bridgwater out to Langport and then drive someone from Langport to Somerton.”

All other charges remain the same as before – including a 50 per cent premium for journeys on Sundays or after 11pm on other days, and a 100 per cent premium for journeys undertaken on bank holidays, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Cllr Gill Slocombe, said: “I am disappointed to see this. In Bridgwater we need to support the night-time economy. Our taxis are extremely expensive.”

Cllr John Woodman questioned whether the rise would lead to Uber and similar companies moving into the district, extending their current bases in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare.

The committee voted to approve the increase in fares by a majority of eight votes to five, with no abstentions.

The council will publish details of the consultation on its website in the coming days.