Taxi drivers in St Albans threaten strike action

First Capital Connect accused of using station as a cash cow

TAXI drivers have warned that they are on the verge of going on strike over the high cost of a permit imposed by First Capital Connect (FCC) to use a new rank at St Albans City station.

The fed-up drivers, who have to shell out �600 a year to use the rank, met representatives of FCC and parking operator NCP at a stormy meeting coordinated and mediated by St Albans MP Anne Main last Friday to discuss a lack of amenities and problems with facilities.

Mudassar Yasin, secretary of the 230-strong St Albans and Harpenden Taxi Association, said the organisation had asked Anne for help as it felt that FCC had been treating the trade unfairly.

He said: “The association does not want to take industrial action as this only effects the public and the livelihood of the taxi driver but [we] are now fed up with the lack of dialogue from FCC.”

At the heart of their grievance is that they are being hit with a �600 fee for an annual permit to use the new taxi rank at St Albans despite toilets being locked from 6pm, a lack of shelter for customers, and parts of the reconfigured area being too narrow for their vehicles to negotiate.

Drivers are also concerned about rubbish being tossed at taxis and drivers at the rank from the nearby overbridge.

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They have been trying to discuss the issue with FCC since January but to no avail.

At the meeting they told David Burns, customer services commercial manager for FCC, that private hire vehicles were using the lay-by directly in front of the station to ferry passengers despite not paying the �600 fee, which they felt was unfair.

Mr Burns said that the new taxi rank was “state-of-the-art” and that a lay-by was provided at the entrance as many passengers used the station.

He added: “What we are providing is a service for a taxi rank. Let’s be clear here, we are not providing services for a prayer room, or toilets.”

Masood Ahmed, of St Albans, replied: “Toilets are important not only for the taxi drivers but they are also important for the passengers.”

Mr Burns explained that where possible, FCC worked in partnership with taxi drivers but that toilets were shut after 6pm as the station did not have “dedicated staff” from that time.

Mr Ahmed pointed out that taxi drivers paid permits for 24 hours but Mr Burns replied that given there were no dedicated toilets for drivers at the station, it was probably a wider industry issue.

The drivers asked how FCC justified charging them �600 a year to use the St Albans rank when counterparts collecting passengers from stations elsewhere on the Bedford-to-Brighton line did not have to pay for an expensive permit to do so.

Mr Burns said that some stations were too small to provide such infrastructure and maintained that the majority of taxi drivers were happy with the facilities provided by FCC.

Mrs Main said she would help coordinate a survey of local taxi drivers, focusing on issues such as fees, safety and facilities to keep the dialogue open between both parties.

Zulfiqar Ahmed, a taxi driver of St Albans, said after the meeting that drivers had not requested a prayer room, as it would be “impossible” to have such a facility at the city station but the drivers would appreciate toilets being available until 11pm or midnight.