'We've had enough' - Harrogate tax drivers unite after spike in violent attacks

Taxi drivers across Harrogate have united to issue a plea for people to treat them with respect after what they say has been a spike in violent behaviour.

Friday, 29th November 2019, 2:29 pm
Updated Friday, 29th November 2019, 4:34 pm

As the festive season approaches and they come to their busiest time of the year, drivers have told the Harrogate Advertiser that attacks are on the rise.

They have said they are now facing up to three or four incidents a week and are urging customers to be more considerate. One reported being thrown to the floor and kicked and scratched, whilst another said his hand had been broken.

With Christmas parties and festive nights out on the way, drivers in Harrogate have said they are worried about facing more violence. Taxi driver Shahpoor Osman said: “This has been on the rise for quite some time now, but we’ve really noticed a difference recently. Harrogate used to be a very safe place and a really lovely place to work, but that is really changing now.

Shahpoor Osman with Harrogate taxi drivers on the Station Parade taxi rank. Picture: Gerard Binks.

“Whenever the drivers come together, we spend our time exchanging stories about the abuse we have faced and how scared we are. People need to realise we are just doing our jobs and we really don’t deserve this.”

He added that the attacks are usually carried out by young people who have been out drinking. He said: “They get in the taxi after drinking a lot of alcohol and they don’t treat us with any respect. We just want to get them home safely, but a lot of the time they don’t want to pay and then they get angry. It is a really frightening time to be a taxi driver. I just want to go to work and feel safe, without having this fear.”

The concerns have been reiterated by Philip Taylor, director at Blueline Taxis. He has urged people across Harrogate not to resort to violence.

“Taxi drivers are there to help,” he said. “They want to make sure you get home safe and sound, so please make sure you treat them with respect.

“We want people to go out and enjoy themselves, but there is just no need for it to end in violence or aggression. Let’s all work together.”

Police have urged drivers to report all incidents. A spokeswoman for North Yorkshire Police said: “It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is subjected to abuse and violence, it’s even harder to understand the motive when it is happening to people who are providing a service.”

Drivers have also reported being hit with bottles, people throwing drinks in their faces, people being sick on them, being punched and kicked, as well as being spat at and having their cars damaged.

They said they have also faced racial abuse, which has left them feeling scared and vulnerable.

Shahpoor Osman said the abusive behaviour has left him fearing for his life and feeling unsafe at work, while his fears were echoed by director at Blueline Taxis, Philip Taylor, who said he too has been the victim of an assault.

Shahpoor said: “People can be so cruel. Sometimes they physically attack us or damage our cars, sometimes it is just verbal, but it is all awful.

“It can be racial too. Sometimes they bring up your family or your religion, and we just have to sit there and take it. It really hurts. Inside my own car should be a safe space, but it doesn’t feel that way sometimes. I feel very unsafe. I worry about being attacked with bottles, because you can’t see what people are doing behind you.

“I feel scared in the dark and it has left me not wanting to go to work. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid, so I have to hide the fear and try to keep going.”

Shahpoor, along with other taxi drivers in Harrogate, is urging people to understand the impact that their behaviour can have and to be more considerate.

He said: “All we are trying to do is help people. We pick them up and get them home safely. We wait outside their doors until they get inside to make sure they are okay, even though we are not getting paid for that time. We do this job to put food on the table for our families. We have to earn money to live, just like everyone else.

“All we want is some respect. We are trying to keep the local communities safe and we don’t deserve to be treated like this.”

He said that attacks are common and occur up to three or four times a week, but that weekends are particularly difficult times.

He added that at times the abuse has got so bad that he has considered leaving his job, but cannot afford to support his family without an income and needs the flexibility to help look after his children.

Mussa Ebzao, another Harrogate taxi driver, has echoed the concerns. He said: “After every weekend the drivers meet up and we constantly swap stories of the abuse we have faced. It is happening all the time.

“I work less hours now and do less Saturday shifts because it is all just getting too much. We are constantly on edge. A lot of our customers are lovely, but it only takes one person to spoil your day and that will always happen.”

Mr Taylor, director at Blueline, told the Harrogate Advertiser that he has seen an increase in anti-social behaviour from customers as both a driver and as a manager.

He said: “Although most people are lovely, there are definitely issues that need to be addressed and there has been a real spike in this kind of behaviour. People need to remember that taxi drivers are just doing their job. There is no other line of work where abuse would be tolerated, so why do people think it is acceptable here?”

He is urging people across Harrogate to bear this in mind as Christmas approaches and people head out on the town for a good time.

He added: “Taxi drivers are there to help, they want to make sure you get home safe and sound, so please make sure you treat them with respect. We want people to go out and enjoy themselves, but there is just no need for it to end in violence or aggression. Let’s all work together.”