South Yorkshire taxi drivers have been subjected to hundreds of attacks in the last few yearsÂ '“Â and cabbies claim the true toll of violence could be evenÂ higher.Â
Figures obtained by The Star revealed there has been more than 500 reported assaults on taxi drivers across Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley since 2013.Â
And the number of incidents have risenÂ in each of the last five years.
This included dozens of racially or religiously motivated assaults which taxi drivers put down to an increase in '˜Islamophobia.'
Lee Ward, chairman of ALPHA (A Local Private Hire Association), whichÂ represents hundreds of taxi drivers,Â warned this could be just the tipÂ of the iceberg as many victims don't bother reporting incidents believing the culprits will never be caught.Â
He said: 'There will be far more incidents than that, far more.Â There is a feeling among taxi drivers that when it comes to police we are just not a priority.
'There has been cases where an incident is happening and they call police but they do not respond quickly enough to help tackle the situation.
'It is almost as though they have too many officers tied up in the city centre to be able to get out into the outlying areas quickly enough.'
The figures, obtained from South Yorkshire Police using the Freedom of Information Act, showedÂ there were 557 reported attacks on taxi drivers between April 2013 and March 2018.Â
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 in a year with 17. Â Â
Mr Ward believes there are a '˜multitude of reasons' as to why the attacks might arise, including arguments over fares, racism and customers losing control under the influence of alcohol.Â
He said: 'In terms of fares, nearly all taxis now have the fares displayed so there shouldn't be any argument over that.
'The majority of incidents will happen on Saturday night when people are under the influence of drink or drugs. There are a lot of racist attacks, particularly on Muslim taxi drivers.Â
'I think the media is partly to blame for that. With the Brexit coverage in particular there has been a lot of IslamophobiaÂ and it all adds up and people get the wrong perception.'
Aamer Hanif used to be a taxi driver operating in the city centre but after being subjected to a number of racist incidents he switched to making airport runs instead through his company UK Airport Transfer.
He said: 'I remember going back to 2002 shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks and a number of people made racist comments towards me and said things about terrorism.Â
'I am not involved in city centre taxi driving now but from what I hearÂ people are starting to make more racist comments, and say certain slogans, since Trump got into power and since Brexit.Â
'It is obviously not very nice, but they are only in your taxi for a short period of time and so it is better to not react.'
Mr WardÂ urged customers to be respectfulÂ towards taxi drivers and said: 'We are just trying to earn a living like anyone else, and we're also just trying to get you home safe.'
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.'