WA's biggest taxi company will begin charging a $9 fee to encourage drivers to turn up for advance bookings on time.
Swan Taxis, owned by Singaporean transport giant ComfortDelGro, is planning to charge the new fee from tomorrow, giving customers the option of paying a $7.50 "advanced confirmed booking fee" on top of the usual $1.50 call-out fee.
The booking would have to be made at least 24 hours before pick-up time, and the driver would forfeit the fee if the taxi did not arrive on time.
Transport Minister Troy Buswell, who approved the new fee after an official approach from Swan Taxis, said it would "guarantee a taxi would arrive at an agreed time".
But the company's operations manager, Graeme Edwards, said yesterday the extra fee was explicitly not a guarantee, rather an incentive to encourage drivers to provide a more reliable service.
"We haven't really started publicising it yet, we were planning a soft launch for a couple of weeks," Mr Edwards said. "The driver has to be there on time to collect the $9.
"We're trying to rebuild customer faith in the taxi industry again, and we're trying to encourage the drivers to turn up on time, basically."
It is understood the fee is a bid to help address customer service standards during peak periods, which occur not just on weekend nights but also early on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings when there is high demand for taxis to take passengers to the airport for early morning flights.
Many of the passengers are on their way to jobs in the resources industry.
Mr Buswell said consumers wanted to know that if they booked ahead, their taxi would arrive on time.
"The payment acknowledges that there is a cost in positioning a taxi for a timely arrival and I believe the option to pay the fee when booking ahead will be welcomed by taxi patrons who rely on this form of transport to get them to their destination on time," he said.
Mr Buswell said other taxi companies could seek approval from him to levy similar fees if they wanted to.
Shadow transport minister Ken Travers said Mr Buswell was trying to sneak the fee in without telling the public before the election.
He predicted the fee would have the unintended consequence of shifting airport-bound jobs away from taxis and towards small charter vehicles.
"It seems the customer still won't be guaranteed a taxi and slugging the customer with another massive fee just shows how much Mr Buswell has allowed the taxi industry to run down," Mr Travers said.