The United Cabbies Group protested outside the Licensed Taxi Driver’s Association on Wednesday over proposals to raise cab fares during the Olympic Games in east London.
The LTDA has proposed to raise cab fares between 15 and 20 per cent during next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games to encourage cab drivers to work during this period.
The proposal, if passed by Transport for London, would allow taxi drivers to charge the premium evening rate in the daytime. It comes in response to cabbies’ concerns about traffic restrictions, VIP lanes and congestion during the Games.
Drivers say the restrictions will cost them significant revenue and has led around half of the LTDA members to say they plan to go on holiday during the Olympics.
It was widely expected that fares would rise during the Games when special ‘Games Lanes’, otherwise known as ‘VIP Lanes’ were announced for the exclusive use of competitors and dignitaries. Black cabs will be restricted from using the lanes, and, in certain places, will not even be able to cross them. This, cabbies say, would send customers on costly diversions.
LTDA General Secretary Bob Oddy, who is a TfL board member, told EastLondonLines: “At the moment, our members are getting very disillusioned in the run up to the Olympics with regards to congestion and the VIP lanes, which cab drivers will not be able to use. It’s just bad news for the taxi trade overall.
“Half our members are saying they will take a holiday during the Olympics, just to get away from it all. The LTDA is now proposing a 15 per cent increase in fares, so as to encourage more drivers to come to work during the Games.”
However, while most news reports on the matter suggest the proposal enjoys support amongst rank and file cab drivers, the UCG, which represents 2,000 of London’s 21,000 black cab drivers, unanimously opposes the LTDA proposal.
The group balloted its members and 98 per cent were against the increase, with 84 per cent voting in favour of industrial action over the matter. 49-year-old cab driver and UCG spokesman Jonathan Myers told EastLondonLines: “This is a completely opportunistic move to make more money and it shows how out of touch the LTDA is with the taxi trade.
“We are content with the existing fare structure, our single demand is to be able to use the whole road network during the Games.”
As a result, UCG is to demonstrate outside the LTDA’s offices in protest against the proposal on November 16.
Paul Bond, Chairman of the taxi branch of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) echoed Myers’ comments. Bond told EastLondonLines: “The proposal is damaging the reputation of the taxi trade and there are more long term issues that need addressing, like the initial charge for cab runs and use of the VIP lanes at the Olympics.”
The RMT Taxi Branch held a protest with the UCG over London’s minicab industry in Trafalgar Square on November 9.
The TfL Board is currently considering the proposal and has until February to make a decision. John Mason, TfL’s Director of Taxi and Private Hire said: “The consultation is ongoing and no decisions have been made. Ultimately it is for the TfL Board to approve any proposals for changes to taxi fares.”
VIP lanes were introduced at the 2000 Sydney Olympics after athletes arrived late at the Atlanta Games. The Olympic Delivery Authority will be deciding on whether or not to close VIP lanes to black cabs but, according to the RMT, are at present unwilling to negotiate the issue.