Taxi drivers in Stoke-on-Trent have hit back over claims they overcharge disabled customers.
An Inside Out programme made by the BBC alleged that black cabs in Stoke overcharge disabled users compared to able-bodied customers has sparked anger among taxi drivers.
Tracey Nickin, 52, manager for City Cabs, told StaffsLive that complaints and problems with customers are part and parcel of the job.
“Personally I handle any complaints made about drivers employed by City Cabs in the area.
“If they are caught overcharging customers then I ensure they give the complainants a full refund.
“I can’t speak on behalf of all privatised taxi companies in Stoke-on-Trent, as I know that this does go on.
“My son was asked to pay £15 for a £4.50 journey himself so I am well aware that it happens.”
She said for disabled customers there is “a flip side of the coin” with benefits like Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) or other benefits.
“These benefits include money to cover transport costs among other things,” added Ms Nicklin.
“Taxi drivers who have the equipment to take disabled passengers have to pay more money for the vehicles, they have to pay more insurance, sometimes up to £18,000.
“The drivers themselves also have to pay for the upkeep of the vehicle to ensure it meets the needed standards for wheelchair users.
“It isn’t discrimination of wheelchair users as the drivers themselves have to pay more for the vehicles that are able to take them.
“If it goes ahead to make all fares equal then there will be less and less drivers willing to pay for the specialised equipment, and therefore less able to take wheelchair users.”
Saj Hashmi, of Roseville Cars, told StaffsLive “I believe that it is the job of the council to regulate the fares of taxis, and do more to protect those who are overcharged.
“It is disgusting that disabled people are being singled out and overcharged in this manner, and the council should do something about it.”
Staffordshire University student Bal Deol, who appeared on BBC’s Inside Out programme, explained the DSA is to help pay for specialist equipment and support workers.
“Many disabled students I know sit in their rooms alone a lot as they don’t have the money to go out, partially because of the money it costs for them to be able to get out and about.
“I want to be able to help all disabled people everywhere get fair treatment, not only if they are a student and in Stoke.”
Liam Ascough, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central, is calling for taxi drivers who overcharged Miss Deol to be stripped of their licences.
He said: “Discrimination in any form is simply wrong. Over-charging someone simply because they are disabled is simply abhorrent.
“Disabled people should be able to use such forms of ‘public transport’ without fear of discrimination or fear of being over charged.
“Stoke-on-Trent City Council should revoke the licenses of those caught over charging, plain and simple as there are no excuses.”
Muhammet Koyuncuoglu, 39, chairman of the Hackney Carriages in Stoke-on-Trent, spoke of his frustration at a lack of power to punish those drivers who did not follow rules.
“Overcharging is a problem personal to the driver, and I have no power to reprimand their actions.
“If I was given the power to ban drivers from the ranks for a certain amount of time I would do.”
Vice president Parvez Akhtar, 46, added they are against drivers who charge anyone extra, not just disabled customers.
“Licensing need to help educate customers on what they need to do if they feel they are overcharged.
“Disabled customers in particular do need to understand that there are certain vehicles which will not be able to accommodate them.
“The few drivers who are doing this are creating bad business for the rest of the rank.
“Any customer who has a problem with the charge or the driver should record their plate number and report it to the licensing section of the council.”
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has yet to comment.