UK | Taxi protest against safety rules brings gridlock to London

London’s black cab drivers brought gridlock to areas of the capital’s main financial district on Monday evening in protest against measures to improve air quality and road safety.

Drivers used their taxis to block a major junction near the Bank of England in the heart of the City, as London’s financial center is known. They also protested near London Bridge station, used by tens of thousands of commuters to reach the city’s southern suburbs.

They’re angry about measures that close certain streets to all vehicles other than buses and cycles for large parts of the day to reduce pollution and improve safety, claiming drivers won’t be able to get passengers to certain parts of town for the first time. Unlike other taxis, black cabs are typically able to use bus lanes, so the new restrictions affect their pocketbooks.

Grant Davis, 54, who’s driven a cab in London for 30 years, said new rules have already made it harder to compete. “The public aren’t getting in because they know there are certain areas we can’t get them to,” Davis said.

Just before 6 p.m. on Monday, policemen on bikes in the areas could be seen telling drivers clogging the streets to move along, as CCTV cameras were about to be turned on, meaning protesters would be subject to fines.

David Turner, protesting near Bank tube station, said the new rules would making it harder to serve London’s disabled community.

“If you get a cab from Euston and you’re in a wheelchair and want to go to anywhere within this area, we can’t get you there” said Turner who’s driven a black cab driver for four years. “We can only get you so far and then you have to get back into the wheelchair and push yourself for the remainder.”

Drivers see the curbs as the latest assault on a profession once seen as a relatively lucrative living that it made it worthwhile spend years acquiring “the knowledge” – the ability to instantly recall thousands of London streets and landmarks that’s a requirement for gaining a license.

Like many of the world’s traditional taxi services, London’s 20,000-plus black cabs, officially known as Hackney Carriages, have come under pressure from Uber Inc. The Licensed Taxi Driver’s Association estimates each driver has lost an average of 10,000 pounds (USD13,000) a year in earnings since the ride-hailing app was introduced.

Taxi drivers are demanding that Transport for London alter its air-quality initiatives that have restricted driver access to parts of the city’s core, according to a statement from London Taxi PR, an advocacy group for drivers.

The most recent trigger has been a plan to suspend access to Tooley Street bus lanes that cabbies use to drop and pick up fares at London Bridge.

“We’re slowly being eroded from the city streets” said John lock, who’s been a cab driver for 10 years. “People pay a premium for the black cab service and that’s because we can use bus lanes and get you round quicker – if they take this right away from us how are we going to do our job?”

Not everyone’s unhappy about the changes. One bus driver stuck on London Bridge for over 30 minutes due to the protests agreed that black cabs posed a safety risk.

“It affects us when they cut us up on the roads and is a safety risk to my passengers,” he said, asking not to be named because he’s not authorized to talk to the press.Ellen Milligan, William Mathis, Bloomberg

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