Taxi drivers to strike in Hitchin from 5pm tonight

Muktar Thind and owners and drivers of North Herts Taxis

Muktar Thind and owners and drivers of North Herts Taxis - Credit: Archant

Taxi customers in Hitchin are being warned of a second mini-cab strike from 5pm to 10pm today following Saturday evening’s walkout which involved more than 50 owner drivers in town.

The dispute centres on North Herts District Council’s decision to reduce the drivers’ flag rate from £3.40 over the first 0.7 miles of a fare to £3, which will come into force on December 1.

Taxi driver Shamriz Khan, who helped lead Saturday’s strike and is supporting today’s action, told the Comet: “No more than eight drivers out of 50 or 60 turned up for work in Hitchin on Saturday night – which is testament to the fact the council has simply not listened to a word taxi drivers have said to them.

“We also know around eight to 10 drivers in Letchworth also didn’t go to work, and we have plans to spread it throughout other towns in the area if the council continue not to listen to us.

“I’ve been driving taxis for 14 years and have never had a customer complain the tariff was too high. Owner drivers are losing 25p to 30p per fare. It’s unacceptable – anyone who has had two wage cuts in two years would feel this way. We’re all family people but we are far worse off now than we were five years ago in terms of drivers pay.

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“The message we are trying to send the council is we don’t want an increase in fares, but we don’t want a reduction either – we just want them to leave it as it is.

“We don’t want to inconvenience the public but the council isn’t listening to us. We are printing 1,000 leaflets to give to as many commuters as possible on Thursday to tell them of our plans. Many of our customers have already asked us how they can support us. None of us want to take strike action as we lose a day’s pay – but the council are acting like a dictatorship in pushing through these plans without consulting us.”

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Councillor Bernard Lovewell, responsible for Housing and Environmental Health said: ‘We remain committed to working with the local taxi trade, however we also have to take into account the needs of their customers. The decision to reduce the current taxi fares from 1 December 2014 to bring them more in line with national and regional averages, was based on balancing the need for a viable local taxi service against ensuring taxis remain affordable for all sections of the community, particularly the elderly and vulnerable.”

Muktar Thind, manager of Boxhall Taxis who helped hand out leaflets to commuters at Hitchin Railway Station said: “We need to make the public aware of what we are doing, We don’t want to inconvenience anyone but we need to let the public know about the cut in wages taxi drivers face.

Roger Lafferty of Castles Taxi in Hitchin said: “The council never listen to us, they are destroying the taxi industry in Hitchin. I feel sorry for the independent drivers here because the council is asking them to take a pay cut – didn’t some people at NHDC receive an 18 per cent pay rise last year? “So how can they then tell taxi drivers to take a pay cut? I broadly supported the strike and I made sure none of my drivers picked up from cab ranks.

“I don’t think the council fully appreciate the service we provide in the community, as we help a lot of people on unsocial shifts get to work including nurses and carers. The council are crucifying the taxi trade in Hitchin.”

Hitchin commuter Stewart Scott from The Ridgeway told the Comet: “As someone who commutes to London every day, and as someone who occasionally has after-work drinks and gets later trains back to Hitchin I do use taxis to get home from the station. I say good luck to the strikers as no-one wants their wages cut do they?”

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