Preston and South Ribble taxi drivers tormented by thugs: "A lad put a knife to a driver’s throat and threatened to kill him"
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Those are the words of a Preston taxi driver who fears being run off the road by either thugs or poverty.
The dad-of-four is one of several drivers in Preston and South Ribble who feel they are putting their lives on the line for their jobs as they face increasing abuse by hooligans while being neglected by authorities.
It is just one more pressure that workers like Mohammed Ayub have been enduring in the past few months, as they struggle to make ends meet following the financial fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine.
Many of Mohammed’s colleagues are quitting, he says, due to soaring fuel prices and high repair costs resulting from gangs throwing stones at cars in the Grange, Moor Nook and Fishergate, which has worsened since January. Faced with little support from the police or council, he worries some people might reach breaking point.
The 49-year-old said: “Someone’s going to get angry. We don’t want to take the law into our own hands. It’s been hitting us hard and we’re scared. It’s frightening to come to work sometimes.
“I think, ‘Is the job worth doing?’
“There’s a lot going on. Some 10 or 12 kids are sitting there and as soon as a taxi comes, they pick up a stone and try to hit the glass. They just find it funny.
“We’ve called the police lots of times. They do try to help us but nothing’s been done so we’ve been suffering. We don’t need all this hassle. It’s just not right.
“We’d like the police to visit the place more often and have a word with the kids.”
Mohammed says drivers avoid entering harassment hotspots, which means fewer jobs and longer journeys, as well as higher fares for customers. It mirrors a similar move by bus operators who diverted more than half a dozen services away from Fishergate Hill after youths attacked vehicles with bricks.
He added: “There are a lot of good people who live there. It’s unfair on them because we refuse to take them as we don’t want to take the risk. Customers are not happy; we’re not happy.”
Like their Preston counterparts, several drivers in South Ribble also say they are being terrorised by gangs.
Taxi boss Mohammed Ali claims one of his workers was left scared for his life in January after a knife-wielding youth refused to pay for a ride from Lostock Hall to Ingol and threatened to kill him.
Mohammed, director of Tardy Gate Travel in Lostock Hall, said: “It’s scary.”
The 25-year-old claims he hit a brick wall after reporting it to the police, adding: “They said they were going to investigate it at the time. I went on holiday for a week and then emailed them for an update but I couldn’t get in contact with them.”
The business suffered another blow when hooded thugs broke into its Hope Terrace office last fortnight, smashing the front door window and stealing a pair of car keys.
Mohammed said: “I’m upset about the things going on in this area, and that the police don’t seem to want to do anything about it. If customers are sick in a car, kick off or smash a door, the authorities are not interested and say it’s a civil matter.”
The businessman would also like to see South Ribble Borough Council step in. He believes taxi drivers are unspoken victims of a string of financial crises facing working people.
“The council has provided no support. It’s just appalling. Other councils have provided help for taxi drivers. Fuel prices are soaring and we’re just about surviving and then we’ve got stuff like this [abuse] to deal with.
“Taxi drivers are at the bottom of the pile. They don’t get any attention or support, even though authorities would be surprised how many people we’ve taken to hospital or school during the pandemic. They don’t understand how much we do.
“I’m upset that South Ribble isn’t doing more to help vulnerable people. This is supposed to be a highly rated area. It’s supposed to be safe and one of the best places to live. I don’t think it is.”
Around half of Mohammed’s workforce went into other fields during lockdown, he says, including many experienced drivers, who still remain out of action.
While he has managed to bring many back, he adds that other firms have not been so lucky. He believes the council could help attract people back to the industry by loosening its vehicle requirements, as many drivers cannot afford, for example, to fork out thousands of pounds to replace the standard dark tinted windows on brand new cars.
“My concern is that it’s a dying industry as not many people are coming into it.”
But, with abuse from gangs increasing, drivers don’t just feel at the bottom of authorities’ priority lists, according to Mohammed - many also feel regularly side-lined by the public.
“I just think all of the taxi industry is looked down upon.
“Many Asian drivers get a lot of racism. And we get a lot of runners who don’t pay us. They just don’t care about taxi drivers. It’s wrong.
“It’s a hard game to be in at the moment because we’re working for pennies.”
A Lancashire Police spokesperson said: “We were called at 4-59am on March 23 to reports of a burglary at an address in Hope Terrace. It appears a beer barrel has been thrown through the front of the property before two people have entered. No arrests have been made at this stage but enquiries are very much ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101, quoting log 148 pf March 23, 2022.”
South Ribble Borough Council has been approached for comment.