LONDON, July 20 (Reuters) – The Olympic Games openingceremony is still a week away, but for many drivers of London’sfamous black taxi cabs the end of the world’s biggest sportingevent cannot come soon enough.
London’s black cab drivers plan toblock traffic on the day of next week’s Olympic opening ceremonyif their taxis remain barred from highway lanes set aside forathletes, officials and media attending the Games.
Hundreds of taxi drivers brought the streets around parliament and Big Ben to a standstill this week, hooting their horns and moving at a snail’s pace.
The sooner it’s over,the better”, said taxi driver Shane Ludlow, 42, at a cab rank inthe heart of the City of London financial district. “It’s prettydisgusting that we can’t use the Olympic lanes.
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 recognizable 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.
Olympic organizer said today bus companiestaking athletes from Heathrow airport to the stadium are“becoming familiar” with routes after reports of lengthydelays yesterday as drivers became lost.
“We were used as icons, as an iconic vehicle to promote London as an Olympic venue,” said Steve Mepham, a committee member of the United Cabbies Union.
“Why should we be unable to go around and earn our living in a normal way? We’re not asking for 500 or 600 pound bonuses.”.
Many of London’s 25,000 taxi drivers want access to all sections of a temporary network of lanes reserved for Olympic athletes, officials and the media.
The exclusive lanes are designedto make it easier for athletes and officials using officialtransport to access the Olympic village in Stratford, EastLondon, and other venues.
Black taxis are currently only allowed in two thirds of the 100 mile network.
Nicknamed “Zil lanes” after the limousines used by senior officials in the old Soviet Union, they are designed to bypass the huge traffic jams expected in London’s narrow streets.
But cab drivers, who study the road network for years in a test called “The Knowledge” before the authorities give them a license, say the decision to exclude them will leave them stuck in traffic and unable to stop to pick up or drop off passengers.
London cabbies (cab drivers) and really all cabbies everywhere know their city inside out.
“It’s absolute rubbish,” said cab driver James Mahoney, 67, from Essex, east of London.
We’re the safest cabs in the world but the Mayor andthe Olympic committee are not giving us anything, not letting usdip our beak in and just earn a living.
BONUS PAYMENTSUnlike London’s bus and train drivers, cabbies will not receive any bonus payments for working during the Olympics.
While the drivers claim that they should be given the use of the route ways, Peter Hendy, transport commissioner for Transport for London, said he condemned their protest.
The decision fuelled resentment among taxi drivers – never shy of giving passengers their opinions on perceived injustices – that their welfare and livelihoods were being ignored.
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.
Most of the places it’s quiet,” said one cab driverwith 29 years’ experience, waiting for work a short ride fromthe Tower of London.. “This week, we’re taking the same money we were taking 25 yearsago.
“This week, we’re taking the same money we were taking 25 years ago. we’re getting 50 percent of what we usually do,” added the driver, who asked not to be named.
As the countdown to the opening ceremony entered its final week, Transport for London continued to encourage Londoners to walk, cycle or work from home to beat the crowds.
He added that cabs had been given permission to access some parts of the Olympic Route Network in order to pick up customers including the Park Lane Games Lane.
“We believe the games are a great opportunity for all sorts of people including taxi drivers. We are sure people visiting would love to use their services,” said a LOCOG spokesman.
But Steve McNamara, a spokesman for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which represents over 10,000 of the British capital’s black cabs, rejected LOCOG’s statement.
London Taxi and Private Hire director John Mason also condemned the protest and urged drivers not to get involved.
Along with all other motorists, black cabs can use the Olympic Route Network and TfL has agreed additional concessions, including the use of turns along the Olympic Route Network that were initially banned for all traffic except buses.
“Despite those concessions, some cab drivers are still angry with London Mayor Boris Johnson.”.
He argued that taxis were a part of London’s transport system and that drivers needed to be allowed to get around and do their jobs.
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