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London taxi drivers stage Olympic protest

posted 23 Jul 2012, 12:50 by Mpelembe   [ updated 23 Jul 2012, 12:51 ]

London's taxi drivers stage a protest to complain about being excluded from the city's Olympic VIP-only lanes.

The Olympic Games opening ceremony is still several days away, but for many drivers of London's famous black taxi cabs the end of the world's biggest sporting event cannot come soon enough.
The capital's "cabbies" are furious that they are banned from driving in some of the special lanes reserved for Olympics traffic and fear they will lose money because London will be so congested during the Games.

Taxi drivers brought London's iconic Tower Bridge to a standstill on Monday (July 23) in a protest against not being able to use the Olympic lanes, hooting their horns and moving at a snail's pace to hold up the traffic.

Hailed from the kerbside by briefcase-bearing commuters and tourists alike, black cabs have been a traditional London sight for more than a century and their horse-drawn predecessors date back to the 17th century. Their trade is worth nearly 1 billion pounds ($1.57 billion) a year, according to one union estimate.

As recognisable as red double-decker buses, their image has even adorned Olympics publicity materials and official memorabilia and many drivers might have hoped for a bonanza as thousands of visitors flood the city for the Games.

"When the Olympic bid went out to Beijing they took a London taxi out there as part of the bid to promote London as a showcase, and now they've just discarded us, left us to one side, which seems totally unfair, really unfair," said one driver Paul Kelly.

While another driver, Paul Heatly, said that London cab drivers were unique in their knowledge of London streets so they are an important part of London's transport network.

"We study very hard to become cab drivers. It's not a badge or a licence you can buy and you have to prove you know the streets of London, that makes us unique. We're not only an icon of London but we drive people round all the time and we're a core part of the transport infrastructure." he said.

Cab drivers said road closures and altered traffic signals had already disrupted their daily work and a downturn in traditional off-the-street business had cut take-home pay.

"We've got people getting in our vehicles and we can't go where we normally have to go, it's outrageous we can't earn a living. We can't have people getting in, they will get out and say don't get in a cab it's going to cost a fortune. So they're going to go elsewhere so we don't earn a living and it's just not on," said 'cabbie' Jim Walker.

For one driver caught up in the traffic jam, the taxi driver already had preferential treatment because they could use the bus lanes for the rest of the year.

"No I didn't realise they're not allowed in the Games Lane, but that's the same for everybody isn't it. They get their own lane the rest of the year," driver Tony said.

While for another driver, who didn't give his name, the disruption to the traffic on the bridge had added two hours to his journey.

"It's ridiculous, it's the middle of the day, we're in work at the moment, and we've got like two hours late you know," the man said.

During Monday's protest a man jumped off Tower Bridge into the River Thames, and survived.

Police pulled him from the water under the landmark bridge, and arrested him on a public order offence.

The man, who has not been named, had been taking part in the London taxi drivers protest.

Tower Bridge, which was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1894, is a bridge designed to allow tall ships to sail through. It is next to the Tower of London from which it takes its name.

Taxi drivers may call another protest on the evening that the games begin.