INCENSED taxi drivers fear the new bridge tolls could drive them out of business.

Cabbies say they had been under the impression that their vehicles would be classified as public transport, like buses, and be eligible for free access over the two bridges.

But they claim they have now discovered a £2 toll will be levelled on each crossing.

More than 100 cabbies met on Tuesday to voice their fears.

Tommy McIntyre, Unite’s national union convenor for taxis, said: “It is absolutely ludicrous.

“For years we have been assured by Halton Council that taxi drivers would not face tolls. We even have correspondence saying that we would not be charged.

“We are public transport, especially over Christmas and at night when the buses don’t run.

“Our drivers are only taking people across the same borough. It beggars belief to charge them.”

Drivers fear the £4 tolls (both ways) could deter customers.

“We could lose half the taxi drivers,” said Mr McIntyre.

“These guys live on local journeys. In lots of cases the tolls could double the fare.

“This could affect shops and Widnes market. Disabled people could become prisoners in their own homes.”

Cabbies vowed to lobby councillors and are threatening legal action and protest demonstrations.

“What we want is commonsense but if they don’t sit down and talk to us they will see some chaos when the new bridge opens.”

Halton Council says the decision to toll taxis and other business vehicles was made as part of the Public Inquiry in 2009 and is not new.

Halton residents using taxis can apply for a toll refund.

David Parr, chief executive of the Mersey Crossings Board and Halton Council, said: “The council has worked extremely hard to ensure local people, when using the bridges for private use, do not pay a toll. A local user discount scheme that achieves this has been developed, funded by the council and central government.

"We recognise some Halton residents may not have access to a car.

"From time to time Halton residents may need to use a taxi. To ensure these residents are not disadvantaged when using a taxi to cross the bridge, we are developing a scheme funded by the council to reimburse Halton residents the toll cost incurred as part of a taxi fare.

"The scheme, in respect of taxi usage, is still in its development and we welcome comments.”