THE pass mark for would-be taxi drivers sitting the Highland-wide section of the knowledge test is to be lowered.
Applicants in the region have to pass two sections of the test to get their licence – one posing region-wide questions and the other covering their local area.
Until now, the pass mark has been 85 per cent.
But Highland Council’s licensing committee has agreed the rate should be dropped to 75 per cent for the Highland-wide element after some operators said it was disincentive to new recruits in some areas.
They also maintained satellite navigation technology provided drivers with information.
The move comes as a review of taxi tariffs is also being carried out across the region which could lead to an increase in fares, particularly at unsocial times including Christmas and New Year plus Bank holidays.
The draft proposals will go out for public consultation and the results considered by the committee in August.
Speaking after the meeting, Andrew MacDonald, chairman of the Inverness Taxi Alliance, said he was disappointed councillors had agreed to lower the pass mark for the Highland-wide knowledge test.
He acknowledged that some areas such as Caithness might be experiencing driver recruitment problems but maintained over provision of taxi drivers was the issue in Inverness.
"I would rather the committee had not dropped the pass mark," said Mr MacDonald whose organisation represents about 150 drivers.
"It is very wrong. I am disappointed they have lowered the pass mark."
During the debate, Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie said with 21 questions in the Highland-wide part of the test, applicants had to get 17 right to achieve 85 per cent.
"If you lower it to 75 per cent, the pass mark is 15 questions," the Conservative representative pointed out.
"You are talking about lowering the pass mark by two wrong questions. That is not a huge amount which is going to be detrimental.
"I think lowering it 10 per cent is perfectly reasonable."
Nairn and Cawdor SNP councillor Liz Macdonald felt if drivers had passed a local test, there should be flexibility to lower the pass rate for the regional test to 75 per cent. "I think there are areas across Scotland where they don’t have a region-wide test," she said. "They have local tests or some areas don’t have a test at all."
Some committee members were concerned it would be seen as lowering standards.
Councillor Karl Rosie, SNP representative for Thurso and Northwest Caithness, said tourism was important to the Highlands.
"It should be incumbent on us all to be ambassadors in the Highlands no matter which area you are in so having a good knowledge of routes and surrounding environments can only be a good thing," he said." "We should be aspiring to maintain standards. I am not keen on reducing standards for that reason."
Committee chairman Ian Cockburn believed the local test should be harder to pass.
He said the Highland-wide test covered a large area from Wick to Glenelg, Glen Coe and Aviemore.
"It is a huge area and no one knows everything," said Councillor Cockburn.
"Naturally, we don’t want to reduce any standards but I think for a Highland-wide test, it shows there should be a differential and I think it should be slightly lower."