TAXI drivers could be forced out of Newcastle’s Central Station after police were called in to investigate a £126,000 missing cash riddle.
Officers were brought in after Newcastle Taxi Drivers’ Association fell behind on the money paid to rail operator East Coast in order to have exclusive rights to the city’s most profitable taxi rank.
Police have arrested the association’s former business manager Anil Murwaha.
But as their investigation continues, hundreds of drivers face being barred from the rank if they don’t meet a timetable set by the Government-owned East Coast.
Some 220 drivers have received letters from the nationalised firm telling them that their association has failed to pay the two instalments of £68,000 and as a result, unless the association pays up, those drivers will have days to find more than £700 each in order to continue to use the station rank.
Drivers have hit out, saying they have receipts proving they paid the association and arguing it would be wrong to make them pay twice.
But East Coast bosses said the publicly owned train firm has a duty to protect taxpayers’ investments.
Pervez Khan, on behalf of the association, said it simply did not have the money to pay.
He said: “We have told East Coast that we fear we are the victims of a crime but they do not want to listen.
“There are drivers here now who are worried for their job. They don’t have this money, they have been paying their money and they are being forced to pay again.” Mr Khan said the drivers were worried about what has happened to their money.
He added: “Now hard working taxi drivers who are struggling to get by suddenly have this extra bill forced onto them. East Coast need to step back and see they are being unreasonable.”
East Coast said the association has another week to pay.
If this does not happen, the train company said, the contract would be terminated and drivers will have to pay for a new permit for which they must pay by February 21.
An East Coast spokesman said: “Our issue is not with the individual drivers, who continue to do an excellent job for our customers, but with their association.
“The association has failed to pay East Coast more than £126,000 owed to it, failed to honour its contract with us and really let down the drivers who it charges to use the rank.
“We empathise with the drivers and, should the association fail to meet a further deadline for payment next week, we’ll support the drivers by giving them the opportunity to continue to use the rank for the remainder of the association’s contract, up until April 30. This would be through purchasing a permit directly from East Coast, which works out at less than £8 per day.
“But we cannot allow the drivers to continue to use the rank without any payment at all.
“There can be no free rides. Like any commercially-run organisation, we need to continue to deliver an excellent service for our customers and ensure we get value for money, which in our case, as a publicly-owned company, means for the taxpayer.”
Northumbria Police today said a 40-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of theft and bailed pending further inquiries.