TAXI drivers say unlicensed vehicles are stealing their business at a new rank behind Brighton station.

The cabbies claim cars from Lewes, Worthing and further afield are abusing the new “back-door” bay to pinch their customers.

The rank caused uproar when it opened last month, preventing drivers from operating in front of the station. Brighton taxi drivers have had to pay a fee to use it.

Brighton and Hove City Council confirmed only the blue and white Brighton cabs and private hire cars with bookings can operate at the new rank.

But when The Argus visited, several of the cars had come from outside Brighton and taxi drivers claimed they were waiting to pick up customers without bookings or appropriate licenses.

John Norman has been a cab driver for 31 years. He said: “What I’d like to know is why I have to fork out £892.50 to sit in this rank when private hire cars can drive into the same area without paying.

“It makes us think: why are we bothering to pay?”

Cabbie Masih Bashirzadeh said: “They’re coming from Lewes, Chichester, even Portsmouth.

“We never had this problem before the rank moved behind the station.

“It’s very bad for our livelihoods. Our earnings are down and we’re waiting hours to pick up customers now.”

The rank was built by Govia Thameslink Railway, which plans to turn the old space into a “covered pedestrian plaza” with a café and an area for bikes.

A spokeswoman for the company said: “The new rank is marked out for taxi permit holders and those without permits are not allowed to ply for trade on the rank.

“There is a defined pick up and drop off area for all other vehicles, where waiting is limited to 20 minutes.

“Waiting is also permitted within the multi-storey car park, which is also limited to 20 minutes.

“We recognised the potential concern from the taxi trade over the impact of the relocation and we have a way-finding campaign within the station to help passengers find their way to the new rank.”

A spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: ““It is only the aqua and white taxis that have permits to pick up from the rank at the station. Other vehicles can pick up from the station if they have a pre-arranged booking (private hire).”