Council wants £50 fee from taxis with wifi

Central Taxis driver Kevin Wood with tablet computer wifi live in his cab. Picture: Toby Williams
Central Taxis driver Kevin Wood with tablet computer wifi live in his cab. Picture: Toby Williams
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Taxi operators have hit out at plans for a £50 administration fee for every cab fitted with wifi.

Internet access in taxis across Edinburgh via wifi hotspots would be free to all passengers, with installation and service charges to be paid by sponsors under the move backed by city council licensing chiefs.

However, the local authority still intends to ask drivers to fill out an application to have the equipment fitted – and charge a £50 levy for each vehicle in the process.

The fee could net the council as much as almost £66,000 if all 1316 of the city’s licensed cabs and private hire vehicles commit to the plan.

The charge was raised with operators at a regulatory meeting last week.

Major firms Microsoft, Heathrow and Styloko paid for a similar scheme launched in London in March.

Central Taxis director Tony Kenmuir said it was not the first time the industry had been stung with unnecessary fees, with operators charged £25 by the council for all adverts posted on the side of cabs.

He estimated the charge would cost his company more than £22,000, saying: “It just gets my goat that they do absolutely nothing for the trade and they’re just always looking for ways to take money off us. We’ll be paying for the unit and the advertisers will be paying for the unit. If there’s some kind of data charge, we might also have to weigh in for that.

“They don’t subsidise us, they don’t make any kind of contribution, which they would do if it was on a train or a bus.”

Mr Kenmuir said there was no doubt passengers would soon come to expect having free wifi in taxis, just like trains or buses.

He questioned why the council was not spending money on upgrading facilities for drivers such as installing new ranks near the 16 stops along the eight-mile tram line.

The council is opening a rank on Rosebery Crescent near the Haymarket stop, but will otherwise rely on existing ranks at St Andrew Square, Grosvenor Street and outside Waverley Station to service passengers coming off trams in central Edinburgh.

George Aird, chairman of rival firm City Cabs, said he was not convinced he wanted taxis in his fleet to be part of the wifi rollout.

He said paying the fee would be up to each individual driver, adding: “The average time of a taxi journey is about eight minutes. For somebody to sit in a train and do their work on wifi coming up from London, I can see the point. But on a taxi I can’t see the point.”

Taxi advertising firm Ubiquitous has agreed to help pay the bill for the Edinburgh service.

A council spokeswoman said the administration fee would cover the cost of a vehicle inspection needed to make sure the wifi unit was installed “safely” and met the taxi’s licence conditions.