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Councillor says women’s safety is being put at risk by cab drivers at Tonbridge Station who refuse short-distance fares and turn away those without cash

Women’s safety is being put at risk by taxi drivers refusing their fares, a councillor has alleged.

Cllr Anna Cope (Green) claims there is a problem with some taxi drivers at Tonbridge Station who were refusing to accept passengers who were travelling only a short distance or who didn’t have cash.

Cllr Anna Cope
Cllr Anna Cope

Under the regulations, taxi drivers must accept the first fare that hails them, no matter what the distance. But one driver has claimed it leaves them out of pocket if the distance is too short.

Since February, in Tonbridge, they have also been obliged to carry equipment to take card payments, but Cllr Cope said that was being frequently ignored with drivers saying their machines were not working.

She said: “The result is that women are being forced to walk home alone, which at night, can be quite worrying.”

Cllr Cope experienced this herself when she arrived at Tonbridge Station at 11.30pm after a night out in Tunbridge Wells with a friend. The taxi driver refused to take her the four-minute journey to her home just under a mile away.

When she posted about her experience on the Tonbridge Mums Facebook page, she was deluged with a wealth of responses from other women who had had similar ordeals.

Tonbridge Railway StationCopyright KMG
Tonbridge Railway StationCopyright KMG

Cllr Cope said: “Obviously, what we should do is take the details of the cab and report the driver - he would probably be suspended for a period.

“But as a woman alone, it is quite intimidating to stand there and take down their details, especially when you have just told them your address.”

Among those who say they have been refused a ride are pregnant and disabled women.

Cllr Cope said: “Some even said they are now getting off at Sevenoaks Station and getting a cab from there, rather than face the issues at Tonbridge Station.”

Cllr Cope believes the problem is widespread. She said: “There have been too many instances for it to be just one or two rogue drivers.”

Some taxis are refusing to take short fares. Stock pic. ..
Some taxis are refusing to take short fares. Stock pic. ..

Other people who experienced the issues including a woman claiming up to 12 taxis denied her custom, another saying they don't even try to get a cab anymore and a third saying it had happened on numerous occasions and once had to walk home in the rain "for an hour".

But it seems that it is not just women who experience difficulties, with one woman saying: “My husband tried to get a taxi around midnight and was refused by three drivers as his journey was too short.”

Cllr Cope suggested one solution might be for the council to engage a taxi marshal to be present at the rank to ensure taxis are accepting fares correctly.

She said: “A permanent marshal would be too much to expect, but if one could be there in the evenings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I think that would cover the peak period when this happens.”

Cllr Cope tried to get the matter introduced at a meeting of the borough’s licensing and appeal committee on Tuesday but was told it was not a sufficiently urgent enough matter to be added to the agenda in that way.

Anthony Garnett said the council would investigate complaints
Anthony Garnett said the council would investigate complaints

Instead, it will be discussed at the next meeting of the committee in June.

Anthony Garnett, the head of service for licensing, who is in charge of taxis, assured her: “When we do have a complaint come in, I always make available my senior licensing officer who is female so that they (women) can feel more comfortable giving the details. If we do get the evidence, we have no hesitation or equivocation in bringing drivers before a licensing hearing.”

Anyone wishing to complain about a taxi driver should email licensing.services@tmbc.gov.uk

A taxi driver who works at the rank and asked not to be named, suggests the issue is with transaction fees not making the journey worthwhile.

He said: “Since the new regulations came into force, everyone has to accept cards. No question.

“I think perhaps some of those complaints may have come from before the change in regulation when it was up to the drivers whether to accept cards or not.

“I’ve been taking cards since 2015, but it is a pain. You have to pay a transaction fee every time that varies between 1.7% to 2.7%, which actually is a lot lower than when I first started doing cards when it was 5%.

“But it still costs me about £1,500 a year, and you can’t claim that back against tax. We have to pay to be paid.

“It’s also true that although there is a facility to give a tip with a card, 99% of fares don’t do so. When you take cash, nearly everyone says ‘Keep the change.’”

All taxis should accept card when people don't have the cash. Stock pic.
All taxis should accept card when people don't have the cash. Stock pic.

As regards drivers refusing to take short journey fares, he said that was because there were too many taxis chasing too little business.

He said: “Since Covid, our trade has halved. So many people are working from home these days, there are fewer fares to pick up.

“That means that as a driver I can be waiting at the rank for 45 minutes, sometimes an hour and a half for a job.

“If you have waited all that time and then someone just wants to go round the corner and the meter doesn’t even get off the standard £4 fare, it is disappointing.

“You will take £4, out of which you have to pay the transaction fee, then you have to go to the back of the queue.

“But you just have to do it.

“The rule is that if you refuse a fare, you have to pull out of the rank and go to the back of the queue anyway.”

The driver, who has been a cabbie since 2017, said: “I know some drivers have refused short-distance fares. I think it’s mostly the newer drivers who don’t understand the rules.

“But none would leave a pregnant lady stranded, as has been alleged.

“There is another side to this story. Just the other day, I had a woman with three young kids and a baby ask me to take her to Pembury Hospital. When we got there, she just said: ’Sorry, I haven’t got any money,’ and walked off. What was I to do?

“We’ve all had experiences like that.”

Last Tuesday, Tonbridge and Malling councillors considered a petition from taxi drivers to put a cap on the number of driver’s licences they issued. The council refused.

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