Furious taxi drivers 'fight and throw chairs' as Metro fare row talks descend into chaos
CLEAR-the-air talks between drivers and the town’s biggest private hire operator over taxi fares descended into chaos with police being called.
Metro bosses met hundreds of drivers at the Excellency banqueting suite in Lower Bridgeman Street on Tuesday night.
But as the meeting drew to a close, with a vote over higher fares, a scuffle broke out with chairs also allegedly being thrown.
Nick Astley, Metro owner, said: “We arranged the meeting, providing food and drinks for drivers, to resolve issues they face.
“It is with regret that I and Norma Astley feel the need to publicly apologise to the Excellency and its customers for the disgraceful behaviour by a handful of the 250 drivers.
“The meeting started in an optimistic and well-organised manner but very quickly got out of control when one driver instigated unrest amongst the others, which resulted in one of the drivers lunging a chair towards the table where Norma was sitting.
“Further fighting broke out with more chairs thrown. The meeting was then disbanded.”
Usman Ahmed, a spokesman for Bolton Private Hire Association, said there were about 300 drivers at the meeting. He added: “Drivers were asked to indicate their opinion on higher fares by standing on one side of the hall or the other.
“Hundreds stood on the association’s side, saying they wanted the fares increased. Only about 20 people stood on the other side in favour of Metro.
“Negotiations were then held off-microphone between Metro and the association. Just as an agreement was to be read out, a couple of men got on the stage and started shouting and swearing through the microphone. Then fighting broke out.
“So the decision was never read out.
“Now we’re holding talks again.”
Mr Astley said Metro had also given free rental periods to forge better working relationships with drivers.
A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said: “We were called to the Excellency at 7.20pm over reports of a disturbance.
“We were told around 20 men were fighting. A number of patrols were ordered to attend but the officers who arrived first said there was no fighting by the time they arrived. They asked people to calm down, which they did.”
No offences or injuries were reported so no further action has been taken.”
Background to the private hire dispute
METRO Cars, based in Tonge Moor, is Bolton’s biggest private hire firm with 500 mostly self-employed drivers.
Its fares are cheaper than many rivals. The current mileage fare is £1.80 for the first mile and then £1.10 for subsequent miles.
Rival operators typically have starting fares of £2.30.
Metro drivers want a £2.30 rate followed by £1.30 for subsequent miles.
They believe they earn less than their counterparts in rival firms but say they are attracted to Metro’s dominance and popularity.
They say other costs, such as fuel and car insurance, have rocketed, with insurance typically rising from £1,200 to £3,000 per driver.
In May, a strike planned for the Spring Bank Holiday weekend was called off after an agreement was apparently reached to raise fares in September.
Metro say they had agreed to raise fares if other firms also raised fares.
Drivers are planning a strike next month. Talks between Metro and drivers are ongoing.
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