TAXI drivers today claimed customers were being short changed by a diversion nightmare in Blackpool town centre.
A simple two-minute journey has turned into a torturous 10-minute trek for private hire taxis due to the roadworks which have affected large parts of the town.
A 200m route now involves a 1.5km diversion which sees customers charged double the usual fare.
The drivers are furious that they cannot access a council-created shortcut along pedestrianised Bank Hey Street at night like their black cab counterparts.
The council opened up the route to Hackney vehicles in order for them to get about town at night.
Driver Trevor Armstrong, speaking on behalf of drivers from taxi firms across Blackpool, fears the policy could even put drivers in danger.
He said: “I feel the current policy towards the two types of passenger carrying vehicles is highly discriminatory, to the point now that there is now the high possibility of verbal and even physical abuse from passengers due to the poorly-implemented policies regarding passenger carrying vehicles in this town.
“There are approximately 500 private hire vehicles in this town, which serve to carry passengers to and from a destination for money – and these vehicles are excluded from using the routes Hackney cabs are allowed to use.”
His anger was echoed by private hire firm Blacktax director Paul Hinton who said: “It’s like they’ve built a wall through the middle of town. We need it open to us to give good service to our customers.”
The closure of Blackpool Promenade for regeneration works has caused chaos on the town’s roads, leading to the creation of the special shortcut at night.
But The Gazette can today reveal the huge route around town private hire drivers are forced to take their passengers on.
Drivers from all licensed hire firms across Blackpool have voiced their frustration at the situation – which means their journeys around town can take 10 minutes longer than a Hackney carriage .
The price of a journey can cost customers around £6 – almost double the amount Hackney carriage drivers will be asking for.
Mr Armstrong added: “This obviously puts us in a position that we have to take a longer route with fare paying passengers due to the stipulations of the council, putting us in some rather awkward situations when a passenger thinks that we are carrying them the long way around to ‘rip them off’. This also leaves these drivers at some unnecessary risk of possible physical harm from passengers under the influence of alcohol.”
A spokesman for Blackpool Council said: “The concession on Bank Hey Street was directly in response to a request from the taxi associations as they felt passengers were unhappy about the extra cost incurred due to the longer diversionary routes.
“Private Hire Vehicles – which are not hailed off the street - have the opportunity to make clear to the passenger what the fare and route would be when the journey is booked.
“Bank Hey Street is a pedestrian area and the taxis are only being allowed this temporary concession under a strict permit system that seeks to protect the route for pedestrians by limiting speed and requiring taxis to behave responsibly. To allow additional vehicles into the area would just increase the risk for pedestrians unnecessarily.”
Bill Lewtas, of Blackpool Licensed Taxi Association, representing Hackney cab drivers, declined to comment on the situation.