Council puts brake on cabbies demanding cash only payments

TAXI drivers in Tunbridge Wells are being ‘encouraged’ to accept card payments and to not always insist customers pay in cash.

The Borough Council has been forced to act after passengers have been left frustrated by drivers who insist on cash payments to avoid paying costly card transaction fees.

Customers have complained on social media about being turned away from taxis when they cannot pay in cash.

A poll by this newspaper showed that 84% of those who responded to our question had experienced ‘cash only’ drivers.

However, Tunbridge Wells taxi drivers have explained how the costly transaction fees, signal ‘cold spots’, and bank payment disputes have affected their business.

Taxi driver, Clayton Berry of Cleggy’s Taxi told the Times: “The fees on card payments for drivers is very high, which is why many only accept cash. We get charged 1.79 per cent for taking a card payment and up to 2 per cent on an international card like Amex.

“Taxi drivers are already paying for licensing, petrol, and the vehicle, and this is another cost on top.

“We are stuck to the meter price, set by the Council and we cannot increase our fares to cover the extra cost, unlike private hires can.

Toni Conlon, of Tunbridge Wells 888, told the Times: “We are having to pay up to 3.5 per cent on some transaction fees and I don’t know how many other people have to put up with that.

“Sometimes we have to wait up to a week to get paid by the [card] companies with some of my friends waiting up to six weeks for a transaction.

“There are also many cold spots around Tunbridge Wells where there is no signal on the customer’s phone or our card reader – these are usually around Mayfield and Crowborough.

“You then have to drive around finding signal which makes the meter go up and customers get annoyed. They have also been times when people’s phones have run out of charge or people have forgotten their PIN number,” Mr Conlon explained.

“There have been cases when people dispute the payment with the bank as an ‘unrecognised transaction’ and they can claim the money back – it has happened to around three drivers I know.”

Former Tunbridge Wells councillor David Scott, who maintains an interest in bus and taxi transport, pointed out the disadvantages of taxi drivers taking card payments.

He told the Times: “One of the existing problems is that they often end up being delivered to somewhere without mobile reception.

“You get to the end of the journey and then they can’t take it [the payment].”

In the Times poll last week, we found that 84 per cent of respondents said they had experienced ‘cash only’ taxis, with many online comments calling for the Council to make all drivers have a card reader.

One commenter said: “Come on TWBC, get cards made mandatory, as well as cash, and do it soon! It’s obviously infuriating people.”

Mr Berry of Cleggy’s Taxi explained: “Around 25 to 30 per cent of drivers take cards and the rest prefer cash payments unless it is a long journey where they can make a good profit.

“At the moment the Council does not require taxi drivers to take cards, but all Hackney Carriages must abide by the licensing rules laid out by the Council.”

“I think more drivers should take cards – I do with no issues – but I understand why they don’t because they lose money.”

The Borough Council is aware of the issues and said it has written to the taxi drivers in the hope of encouraging more drivers to take card payments.

Luke Everitt, Cabinet Member for Environment, Sustainability and Carbon Reduction, said: “I can understand how frustrating it is to find that a taxi is cash only when you just want to get on with your journey.

“Under existing Council policy drivers are not obliged to accept card payments. It is a business decision on their part which I’m sure is influenced by the transaction fees they might incur. If a passenger does not have an alternative means of payment the driver would be within their rights to decline the fare.

“That said, the Council’s Licensing Team has recently written to the taxi drivers encouraging those who do not accept card payments to do so, and to advise them that drivers should be flexible and take people to cashpoints if necessary to avoid leaving them stranded.

“We will continue to work with local drivers to develop practical taxi licensing that residents would expect, while balancing drivers’ business needs in a difficult financial time for us all.”

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