Parts of central London were gridlocked this afternoon as thousands of black cabs showed up in support of a protest organised by the taxi union, United Cabbies Group.
At the centre of the protest was Trafalgar Square where from 4pm around 800 taxis descended upon the area in support of the demonstration against minicab touting which the UCG argues puts women at risk.
General Secretary of the RMT Union Bob Crow attended the demonstration in a display of solidarity with the taxi union.
Crow said: “The licensed taxi trade in London is under an unprecedented attack and that’s why RMT members in the industry are working for maximum unity to defend jobs, safety and the quality of service to the public.”
Jonathan Myers, cab driver and UCG spokesperson, said he believed that nearly 4,000 black cabs had attended the protest as parts of central London – including Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall, the Aldwych, Fleet Street, Shaftesbury Avenue and Victoria Street – had all been at one stage or another gridlocked and closed as a result of the protest.
The UCG believes that Transport for London and the taxi licencing body, London Taxi and Private Hire (formerly the Public Carriage Office), aren’t enforcing the law regarding licenced and unlicensed minicabs.
TfL released a statement earlier in the day calling for the UCG to cancel the demonstration and said: “The group’s justification for the protest is based on inaccurate and false claims about London Taxi and Private Hire and the work it undertakes to provide a safe service for the public.”
The UCG believes that TfL has encouraged “satellite offices” – private hire operating centres – where minicabs can wait to be booked by passers-by. The union argues that this contravenes hackney carriage law which states that private hire vehicles (minicabs) must not wait to be hired in view of the public.
The UCG cites these “satellite offices” as also having led to an increase in sexual assaults on women.
According to the union, the number of sexual assaults taken place against women travelling in licenced and unlicensed minicabs increased by 54 per cent in 2010.
The pre-booking system generates a record, which makes travelling by minicab safer, says the union.
Jason Cook, a London cab driver for eight years, who took part in the drive-in protest said: “We see it all over, there’s a lot of vulnerable people out there and they get taken advantage of. I’ve got daughters, I’ve got a wife, and my heart would skip a beat if I thought they were going to get in one of those cars [minicabs].
“They’re being preyed upon outside clubs and bars and pubs. It’s unscrupulous people out there taking advantage and that’s the reason why we’re protesting.
“We’re not doing it to give everyone the hump. We want to make a valid point because there are women out there getting attacked. It’s a fact.”
Earlier today, John Mason, Director of London Taxi and Private Hire, said: “It is deeply regretful that a small and isolated group, who do not represent the views of taxi drivers across London, feel the need to stage this demonstration.
“In staging this protest these taxi drivers will be wilfully disrupting the travelling public, the very people they are supposed to serve.”
One black cab driver who wished not to be named said: “The [black]cab trade is over 100 years old, it’s built a reputation up with the public and we want to protect that. The public trust us, they see the yellow light and they think we’re trust worthy and they rely on us.
“People come up to me with their children and ask me to take them to school.”
The UCG told LondonlovesBusiness.com that unless TfL and London Taxi Private Hire engage in talks with the union they would plan more action.