A NURSE has labelled city taxi drivers who refuse to turn the meter on and instead charge flat rate fares as “disgraceful” – and she's worried it will encourage more people to walk home late at night, putting themselves at risk.

Kim Tanner, who specialises in forensic sexual offence examination, is worried that young people will choose to walk because ‘greedy’ taxi drivers are breaking the law by not using the meter.

However, a spokesman for Worcester Taxi Drivers Association (WTDA) said the issue is down to a lack of enforcement by Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) and the city council, which needs a “major shake-up”.

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Ms Tanner said she has got two taxis in recent weeks from the rank in Foregate Street back to her home in Barbourne and the drivers had refused to turn the meter on.

While a male friend of hers had the same issue with two taxis parked on the rank on Saturday at around 11.30pm.

She said she argued with her taxi driver during the latest incident – around 4pm on a weekday – who wanted a flat rate fee of £8 for a journey she knew usually costs under £5.

And he told her “do you know how long I’ve been waiting for?” to which she said that “wasn’t my problem and to let me out”.

The driver then agreed to put the meter on and the fee came to £4.20, she claimed.

“I had a proper argument with him and phoned the company up and had a go at them,” she added.

Ms Tanner no longer uses the rank, instead getting off the train at Shrub Hill, but said she fears the issue could result in more young people failing to “get home safely” because they will just walk after nights out.

“There’s just the assumption that someone is drunk, you put them in a taxi home, and they will get home safely and the driver will give them a reasonable fare.”

She said men and women are being put at risk of attacks, using the example of a man in his 20s who was severely sexually assaulted in September in Fort Royal Park.

“If you are on your own, if you are drunk, you are not safe and need to be able to rely on a taxi home,” she added.

Ms Tanner went on to say there is also still an issue with taxis parking illegally off the rank, in particular blocking the bus stop.

She said she watched a woman who was “very unsteady on her feet” having to be helped off the kerb and onto the bus, which couldn’t get to the stop because taxis were blocking it.

A spokesman for the WTDA said the problems have been “going on a long time” and are partly down to ‘cross bordering’, where drivers licensed by other councils come into the city to ply their trade.

This has meant drivers are more desperate to make ends meet by charging flat rates and competing for spaces, but means the standard of drivers and taxis is also dropping, with the authorities “only interested in revenue”.

He said he empathised with drivers in the city ignoring the meter and refusing to take customers shorter distances because they want bigger jobs, as the taxi trade is now “dead” in Worcester.

But he said if enforcement officers “did their jobs” they could prevent flouting of the law, including parking outside ranks, quite easily.

A council by-law means taxi drivers who park outside of a designated taxi rank when it is full and do not move to an empty one could be fined up to £500 and handed four penalty points.

A taxi driver who picks up more than 15 points within two years would be forced to meet with the council’s licensing committee meaning the licence could be revoked.

The WTDA spokesman went on to say the council has also got to bring in better policies to safeguard the city trade from ‘second rate’ drivers bypassing stricter standards in Worcester but still plying their trade here.

He claims he knows of numerous drivers who have lost their Worcester licences only to get another one elsewhere and then continue trading in the city.

The WRS regulates the standards for all the county’s councils but each council’s standards for giving out licences differs.

The spokesman said this makes no sense as the WRS is “one body all together” but this loophole means there are taxis with bald tyres and drivers with a high amount of penalty points, for example, operating in Worcester without a Worcester City Council licence.

Transport Minister Nus Ghani, during a meeting with Conservative parliamentary candidate Robin Walker in Worcester last week, said plans are in place for a UK-wide taxi standard to be set in attempt to kerb the impact of cross-bordering.

A city council spokesman said the authority “has listened to taxi drivers” and has been “conducting late night enforcement in relation to allegations of cross-bordering issues”.

“As a result, two cases are currently under investigation, with the potential for future court action.”

Referring to Ms Tanner, she said: “With regard to the second issue, it is an offence for licensed taxi drivers in Worcester to charge more than the meter price shown.

“Taxi drivers are required to use taximeters fitted to their vehicle for all journeys within Worcester and should not be charging flat rates fares.

“However, WRS has received no formal complaints about this issue for over two years. If we do receive such a complaint in the future, it will be fully investigated.

“We’d like to remind members of the public that if you are unhappy about the services you have received or are concerned that you may have been overcharged by a Worcester taxi driver, to please report the matter to enquiries@worcsregservices.gov.uk”