Cabbies halt London's traffic in 'Zil Lane' protest ahead of Olympics
London taxi drivers 'mass ply for hire' halted traffic around Parliament Square for over an hour in the first of 3 protests at taxis not being allowed to drive, pick up or set down passengers in the 60 miles of Olympic lanes in London.
Hundreds if not thousands of London's 'iconic' taxis came to central London today and took part in a 'Mass Ply for Hire' demonstration where with 'For Hire' lights on they drove slowly down Whitehall and around Parliament Square, soon creating gridlock which brought traffic through Westminster to a half for around an hour.
The protest, organised by the United Cabbies Group (UCG) but also supported by other London taxi organisations including the RMT London Taxi branch was against the widespread banning of taxis from driving in the Olympic lanes in London. They cannot even go into them to pick up or set down passengers. Most of the bus lanes in central London are being turned into 'Zil' lanes and taxis are banned - and face a £130 fine if they enter them.
The cabbies are particularly annoyed as the London black cabs featured strongly in the bid for the Olympics, but they feel they are now being left out in the cold, with the restrictions making it impossible for them to earn their living for a couple of months. Consultations between road users and the games organisers have led to some relaxation of the overall restrictions which would have kept the games lanes operational for the entire period and made some journeys virtually impossible because right turns across the lanes are banned. During the actual periods of the games and paralympic games, the restrictions will remain an almost insurmountable obstacle to taxi movements across London.
The increased journey times - in some cases expected to be several times as long, with a similar increase in fares - and the inability to set passengers down or pick them up where they want to go will particularly impact on disabled users, many of whom are reliant on taxis for mobility. There are 44 nearside games lanes and taxis will only be permitted to access 2 of these.
The UCG balloted their members after exhaustive negotiations with the organisers had gained only fairly insignificant improvements, and 87.4% were in favour of immediate demonstrations. Today's event was the first of these and appears to have been extremely succesful. Two further similar protests in as yet unnamed venues have been announced, for Monday 23 July and Friday 27 July.
The organisers want to keep the protests legal and to maintain good relations with the police. There was an unfortunate incident at a previous taxi driver's protest - the first organised by the UCG several years ago - when a driver was dragged out of his cab by an officer, thrown to the ground and handcuffed with his wrist being broken in the process after he had objected to being abused by an irate motorist. So far as I could see there were no such problems on today's protest.