TAXI TRADE BLOCKADE WHITEHALL IN PROTEST OVER TRANSPORT FOR LONDON’S REFUSAL TO CHANGE ITS POLICY TOWARDS THE LICENSING OF THE CAPITAL’S PHV TRADE
THE PROTEST / BLACK CAB DRIVERS brought Westminster to a standstill in protest at what they claim is “weak and ineffective” licensing regulation by Transport for London (TfL) of the capital’s private hire industry.
Whitehall, Parliament Square, the Mall, Trafalgar Square and surrounding roads were swamped by over 9,000 taxis as a cacophony of car horns filled the air, with cabbies heading the call to arms by the United Cabbies Group (UCG), and making their views known outside Downing Street.
Taxi drivers from Manchester and Liverpool, as well as France, Belgium and Spain, turned out to support their London brothers and there were reports of gridlock as far afield as Covent Garden, Fleet Street and Victoria.
Traffic police, who appeared caught out by the number of vehicles that showed up, applied for a Traffic Management Order to stop more taxi drivers driving from Trafalgar Square to Whitehall. They were then forced into the Mall where they were ‘kettled’.
Police tape was also deployed along the central reservation of Whitehall to stop cabbies performing U-turns over and over again and never leaving the area.
As tempers began to fray between officers and Knowledge Boys on their scooters, a trainee cabbie was arrested on the junction of Trafalgar Square and Whitehall.
Only taxi drivers were being allowed to join the protest and an un-named man was taken off his scooter, handcuffed and arrested for obstructive behaviour.
A protest by the UCG was made to the Metropolitan Police Bronze Commander and the Knowledge Boy was later released.
Overall though, the atmosphere was light-hearted and PHC saw many cabbies sitting in their stationary vehicles chatting and laughing with police officers.
Taxi drivers also took advantage of the gridlocked traffic to wave home-made banners, flags and posters, chat with old friends and bang drums and play guitars as Whitehall took on the air of a street festival.
French cabbies shouted out, ‘Je suis taxi’ from the window of their French-flag covered cab as Johnny, the son of a taxi driver, and a friend sang to tourists, cabbies and police alike outside Westminster Tube station.
With a catchy reggae themed song that asked listeners to, ‘Stick with the black cabs’ because Uber drivers, ‘Don’t even know the streets that they work’, and ‘Have no background security checks’.
Adding to the carnival atmosphere was George Galloway, ex-Labour and Respect Party MP, and now running for mayor of London for Respect, who alleged, to demonstrators, that money was “changing hands” between Uber and “the people making political decisions”.
Mr Galloway added:
I will run Uber out of town if I am elected mayor of London. I will use all the tools that have been used against you because these hucksters (politicians) have told Johnson to leave Uber alone.
“My son-in-law goes around London, all day, every day, on a moped, building up his skills, as everyone of you has done. In the hope of a dignified skilled trade that will keep him and my grandchildren for the rest of his working life.
“But, this way of life is being destroyed by these people and I will not allow this to continue.”
Mr Galloway’s support was not welcomed by the UCG however and a spokesman said: “We did not invite Mr Galloway. We are politically neutral. This is not about who is going to be the next mayor of London.
“He’s like all politicians, prostituting himself and prostituting our issues. He’s making cabbies into political footballs.”
Len Martin of the UCG added:
We will keep protesting and stopping traffic until something is done. We are talking about the livelihoods of tens of thousands of drivers and their families.
“Londoners who value their traditional taxi service should rally around it and send a signal to the candidates in the mayoral election that they will support those of them who give a clear pledge to put an end to the unfair practices of Uber and protect the iconic heritage of the capital that London taxis represent.
“Disrupting the public is not something we take lightly, but we have been talking and talking with the regulators and we feel we now have no option but to take to the streets. And this is only the beginning. No retreat and no surrender.”
In response to the action taken by London taxi drivers, Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said: “This protest was sparked when Transport for London dropped plans for bureaucratic new rules on licensed private hire drivers, such as the five minute minimum waiting times.
Londoners have made it clear that they don’t want to be slowed down, with more than 200,000 people opposing these proposals. We believe that black cabs and services like Uber can co-exist in the capital.
TAXI DRIVER COMMENT / Carlos Oliveira (58) a taxi driver for 30 years said: “I am here today to try to embarrass the mayor into enforcing laws which already exist.
“Imagine you run a butcher’s shop and every week, 6,000 new butcher’s shops open on your street and the next street. Since Uber came in, it’s is killing us.”
Former printer Andrew Page (55) has been driving a London taxi for ten years and said: “We have had enough and this is just the first in a series of actions. It’s very tough, but we will fight until its finished.”
He added: “We disrupt traffic in London for two hours and the police give us a disorder notice. Uber disrupts an entire industry and they get dinner with Osborne and Cameron.”
Jonjon Dale (47) runs the Cabstop taxi garage in Kingston and was at the protest in Whitehall to offer his support. He said: “We are here in support because we have all got to stick together.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff for taxi drivers – garages, cafes etc, and if they go down, we go down with them. Drivers are not earning what they used to earn and that is having an effect on us.
I think however that this is a fight that we can win. It’s going well today, there’s been a big turnout and a lot of support. This is going to keep happening until something is done.
Black cab driver Sean Dugdale (47) added that the Government and TfL were as much the targets of the protest as Uber: “I am suffering, there is no mistake.
“My takings are down by 30 per cent. I gave up four years of my life to do the Knowledge but this government are just leading us to rack and ruin.”