South Yorkshire taxi drivers have been subjected to hundreds of attacks in the last few years – and cabbies claim the true toll of violence could be much higher.
Figures obtained by the Free Press show there has been more than 500 reported assaults on taxi drivers across Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley since 2013. The figures have also risen in each of the last five years.
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This included dozens of racially or religiously motivated assaults which taxi drivers put down to an increase in ‘Islamophobia.’
Andy Pownall, who is vice chair of the Doncaster Taxi Drivers' Association which represents the interests of scores of cabbies in the town, warned this could be just the tip of the iceberg as many victims don't bother reporting incidents.
The 68-year-old Scawsby man, who retired last year after more than 30 years as a taxi driver in the town, said: “There are a lot of arguments over the cost of fares and people who get in and try and get away without paying.
“A lot of the incidents also happen over the weekend when people have had a drink.
“You never know who you are picking up but we are just doing a job like anyone else, so I would just urge people to be respectful.”
The figures, obtained from South Yorkshire Police using the Freedom of Information Act, showed there were 557 reported attacks on taxi drivers between April 2013 and March 2018.
They have gone up in each of the last five financial years, from 98 in 2013/14 to 136 in 2017/18.
A total of 67 attacks were deemed to be aggravated by race or religion. 2017/18 saw the most incidents with 17.
Mr Pownall added: “I have not had any physical assaults myself but I've had plenty of verbal arguments.
“I've spoken to a lot of my colleagues and it seems, unfortunately, that a lot of the attacks are against Asian drivers.
“The trouble is there will be a lot of incidents that don't get reported. People just don't think that the perpetrators will get caught.”
Police stressed that the way the crimes are recorded means that the victims work as taxi drivers but were not necessarily working as cabbies when the attack took place.
Chief Inspector Paul Ferguson said: “Nationally, there has been an increase year-on-year in violent crimes and unfortunately, attacks on taxi drivers appears to mirror this trend.
“Nobody should have to experience violence or criminality at their place of work and for taxi drivers, their place of work is their vehicle. They provide a service to the public and should not be subjected to violence or aggression.
“We work closely with partner agencies across South Yorkshire and would urge any taxi drivers who are victims of crime to ensure this is reported so that we have an accurate understanding of the issues facing this industry in our region.”
He added: “I’d also remind the public of their responsibilities to behave appropriately. I know that especially at this time of year, many of you will be out and about enjoying the festive season and may wish to have a drink. If you do indulge in alcohol, please do so safely.
“Being drunk does not excuse you behaving in an aggressive or violent manner towards individuals working as taxi drivers or in the transport sector. If you commit a crime then police will investigate and you could face prosecution.”