Council proposes mandatory card payments for all taxis

Taxi drivers in Tunbridge Wells could soon be forced to take card payments as Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) considers making card readers compulsory.

In a bid to improve public safety, the option to pay with a card will mean those without cash won’t be left stranded.

A report published by TWBC on September 13, 2023 said it had received “a growing number of complaints from members of the public who were unable to get a taxi late at night”, as drivers couldn’t accept card payments.

Earlier this year, TWBC had written to cab drivers servicing Tunbridge Wells station asking them to take card payments following complaints from many would-be passengers. The policy review would mean taxis servicing Tunbridge Wells station would have to have a card reader and the ability to take payment.

The Council is set to update its regulatory policy for Hackney Carriages and private hire taxis, and a public consolation involving both residents and drivers is due to take place.

This development comes as welcome news to many of the town’s commuters. On March 8, 2023, the Times reported on the problem of both commuters and tourists being left stranded in the town centre for lack of a card reader.

While TWBC said the option to pay by card is intended to “improve public safety” and reflect technological advances, many drivers have raised concerns over poor signal for their card readers and an inevitable price hike for passengers.

Taxi Driver Clayton Berry, of Cleggy’s Taxi said that “forcing” drivers to take card payments is wrong:

“Until the mobile networks can guarantee complete coverage so we can take card payments, this is not going to work. If you go out to Mayfield, there’s hardly any mobile signal,” he explained.

“I myself have lost money because of this. It’s not fair, and it’s very wrong to force us to do it.”

Mr Berry is also concerned about drivers losing money on each fare, explaining to the Times that drivers can lose up to three per cent per journey on card processing fees.

“Big companies can absorb that cost [of processing fees] through their products, but a taxi cannot absorb this cost. Our prices are set out by the Council,” he added.

He suggested that this might result in another hike in fares for passengers.

“It’s not the taxi driver’s doing, it’s the councillors and the Council which have caused this,” he said.

Shujaullah Baraki, Chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Hackney Drivers Association, thinks the mandatory card payment will also have a negative impact on tips.

“Before, if a journey was £4.80, they give us £5 and we say: ‘Thank you.’ That 20p is for my tip,” he said.

The Council set the fares charged by Hackney Carriage proprietors within the Borough of Tunbridge Wells. Councillors will decide if taxi fares will increase with the introduction of mandatory card payments.

A spokesperson for TWBC told the Times: “We cannot pre-empt what councillors decide, so the taxi trade would need to wait until the conclusion of the meeting in November. Any fare increase is something that the trade would apply for.”

Under the Council’s new proposals, drivers who refuse card payments or do not have a card payment device could get nine points on their Council taxi licence.

Any driver who gets 12 points on their licence in two years could face punishment.

The changes could come into effect from November 21, 2023.

Anne Musker, Chair of the Tunbridge Wells & Area Access Group thinks having the option to pay by either cash or card will be of advantage to those with disabilities.

“For energy- or distance-limited folk, getting to a cashpoint may be harder than for able-bodied people, but for others, cash is what works for them, and using a card makes managing a tight budget harder,” she said.

Mandatory card payments will make people feel safer, with the certainty that they could use a taxi in the town, especially late at night.

Natalie Waller, 24, who often commutes to London and needs a taxi home from Tunbridge Wells station, said: “I think these changes are very important.”

“As I’m sure it’s the same for many people, I don’t often carry cash, so knowing I can quickly and safely get home in a taxi using a card payment puts my mind at ease”.

In addition to the updated card payment policy, the licensing policy concerning drivers and sexual offences will be updated.

The current policy states that a licence may be suspended or revoked if an existing driver is awaiting trial or has been charged with a crime relating to “any of the more serious sexual offences”.

The new policy would use a broader definition, with the wording changed from “more serious sexual offences” to “any sexual offences”.

The Council is currently inviting comments on the draft revised policy until November 10, 2023.


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