Taxi fares war blamed for attacks

Blackpool taxis and (below) Bill Lewtas of BLOTA.
Blackpool taxis and (below) Bill Lewtas of BLOTA.
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Taxi chiefs in Blackpool today told how cabbies have been attacked by angry passengers after being accused of ripping them off.

Hackney carriage drivers claim cut price fares introduced by some private hire firms has led to anger from some passengers.

Bill Lewtas of BLOTA.

Bill Lewtas of BLOTA.

And they today called on licensing chiefs to put an end to the two-tier pricing structure currently operating in Blackpool.

Hackney carriage drivers who stick to the council-imposed tariff rather than discounting their fares have been accused of overcharging and have faced abuse as a result.

The issue has arisen because while independent Hackney carriage drivers stick to the tariff set by the council, private hire companies have introduced discounted rates.

It has also meant visitors are sometimes charged more than locals because they are more likely to flag a Hackney carriage down on the street than ring a private hire firm.

Now the Blackpool Licensed Taxi Operators’ Association (BLOTA) claims at least two drivers have been assaulted by angry passengers in the past fortnight - and wants action to address the issue.

Bill Lewtas, of BLOTA, said: “It is a matter of concern to us that certain taxi and private hire companies have chosen to implement different tariffs. This leads to confusion, drivers have been abused and in some cases it has led to violence.

“Our view is that all taxis and private hire vehicles should operate the same tariff as they do in many other local authorities.

“And if some want to offer discount for regular customers (only those that phone for a vehicle) then that is up to them.”

Bispham-based cabbie David Palmer was threatened last month by a passenger who complained about the fare.

He said: “I picked someone up from outside the Counting House in Talbot Square and took them to their hotel just past the Pleasure Beach.

“He was complaining about the fare and said he had got another taxi into town and the fare was a lot less.

“I told him the meter was calibrated to the fares set by the council and if other companies wanted to under-cut that, that’s up to them.

“After I dropped him off, he came at me and tried to punch me but I was able to drive off.

“But drivers are getting it in the neck from passengers who assume they are getting ripped off. It’s bad for tourism as well if people think this. I’ve put a CCTV camera in my cab now as a result of this incident, but my worry is a driver is going to get seriously hurt.”

A report to councillors on Blackpool Council, who are due to discuss the issue next week, says: “Customers do not understand the difference in fare structures and instead suspect the independents of over-charging.

“This can place drivers at risk of verbal abuse and violence.” All Hackney and private hire vehicles are fitted with meters calibrated to a tariff set by Blackpool Council.

But recently private hire companies have moved away from the council tariff and calibrated their meters to their own company tariff in order to offer a discounted rate.

Operators are allowed to set fares below the council-set rate, but are forbidden from exceeding it.

C Cabs has reduced its opening price from £2.60, which is the council-set rate, to £2, while Bispham-based Blacktax also charge a lower rate. They say it is in response to tough economic conditions.

Dee Grant, a director of C Cabs, said: “We are in a recession and people are looking for savings everywhere so if we can offer a discount to local people, that is what matters to us. If the Hackneys want to compete, there is nothing to stop them offering discounts too.”

Blackpool’s chairman of licensing Coun Norman Hardy said by law the council could only set a maximum rate.

He said: “I understand the concerns of the Hackney cab drivers because in the main they are individual operators, while there are a number of companies that have private hire and Hackneys and because of their size, they can offer reduced rates.

“It concerns me drivers are being threatened.”

In a bid to resolve the issue, Blackpool Council is considering making it a condition of all licences that drivers display a sign to explain differences in 
tariffs.

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