FURIOUS taxi drivers say they are being driven out of Stafford town centre due to a proposed shake-up of taxi ranks.
And they have warned the move could lead to late-night disruption and antisocial behaviour if revellers at Stafford's nightspots cannot find taxis to take them home.
The 70 members of the Stafford Taxi Association have been informed that the council aims to shut down the taxi rank of Bridge Street, at the side of the Casa nightspot, and move it to South Walls, next to the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The proposed move is part of preparations for the new shopping complex and cinema being built at Riverside.
But the taxi drivers say the South Walls rank would only have space for five cars - as opposed to the 20 or so that currently queue up on the service road behind Casa.
Meanwhile a police proposal to block off Bridge Street to traffic late at night would make the situation even worse, by adding time and cost to taxi journeys, they say.
"It is ridiculous - this is the safest and most convenient place for us to park at night," said Colin Jones, chairman of the Stafford Taxi Association.
"They seem to be trying to push us farther and farther away from our customers."
Mr Jones, 59, who has been a taxi driver for 10 years, said night-time closures of Bridge Street would mean longer journeys and higher fares for passengers travelling to the south of Stafford.
Colleague Peter Stock, 52, a driver for 20 years, added: "Bridge Street is the best place for a taxi rank because the main pubs and clubs are in this area, and they all have security and taxi marshalls, as well as CCTV."
Driver Nurul Rashid, 38, said: "There will be more people hanging around the town centre late at night, wandering around looking for taxis. At the moment they can get one straight away and go home safely."
And Rich Phillips, 46, said drivers were also concerned about extra fuel bills if they had to take longer routes out of the town centre, or had to drive around because of a shortage of taxi rank spaces.
A Stafford Borough Council spokesman said it was still consulting on the move.
"We are working with the taxi trade and county council to ensure there is the proper provision for licensed vehicles because they are integral to the economy of the town and especially the night time economy," he said. "We've made the trade aware of the proposed relocation of the existing taxi rank in Bridge Street and have asked them for their views."