'Iconic' London taxis clog up city centre in protest
Hordes of traditional London taxi drivers clogged up the city centre on Wednesday to protest against a boom in unlicensed minicabs and rickshaws prowling the streets.
For the second time in three months, London's famous black cabs filled up Trafalgar Square, the very heart of the city, and Whitehall, where the government ministries are based.
Cabbies honked their horns and crawled along the streets, venting anger at officials including London mayor Boris Johnson for their perceived failure to enforce taxi licensing laws.
They unveiled a giant blow-up rat representing the mayor's approach.
"Apparently, we're iconic to London, which we are; we should be looked after," John O'Sullivan, 40, said in his taxi on The Mall, the processional route from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square.
Organisers said they were expecting 5,000 cabs at the protest.
There are around 25,000 licensed black taxis in London, which can be hailed in the street, and 60,000 licensed private hire vehicles, which can be pre-booked but not flagged down.
Unlicensed cabs are widely available in busy spots at night.
"We've been asking them for a long time for greater enforcement against illegal minicabs, touting," said Steve McNamara, head of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which called the protest.
"Every night of the week in London, there are people being attacked, robbed, assaulted by unlicensed, uninsured minicab drivers," he told AFP.
"The problem in recent years has bloomed. It's now completely out of control at night in the West End," the city's entertainment district.
Besides unregulated drivers, cabbies also hit out at the pedal rickshaws "clogging up" central London and "ripping off" tourists.
- 'We're being shafted' -
Licensed London black cab drivers, dubbed the "eyes and ears" of the city, spend three years on a moped learning "The Knowledge" -- every street in London and routes across it.
"You can't ride a moped around London for three years without falling in love with the place," said McNamara.
"When you know every inch of it as we do, this is the greatest city on Earth and it's being managed by people who wouldn't be allowed to run some third-world backwater," he said.
The giant rat was placed next to the statue of king Charles I -- to which all road distances to London are measured. Bemused tourists posed for photographs as cabbies slowly drove past.
Bob Limerick, 58, a cab driver of 15 years, said: "We just want the law enforced. Simple as that."
O'Sullivan said: "We go through years and years of doing The Knowledge, which is not easy, and then it seems like we're being shafted by TfL (Transport for London)."
Leon Daniels, TfL's managing director for surface transport, said the protest was regrettable.
"The taxi trade has several forums with TfL and the mayor. We urge them to communicate directly with us on the specific issues they wish to discuss," he said.
© 2014 AFP