London Taxi Drivers Blockade Center in Cab Dispute

Black-taxi drivers blocked roads off central London's Trafalgar Square in a dispute over rival "mini- cabs."

All roads leading to Trafalgar Square were clogged with the iconic black cabs, snarling traffic in mid-afternoon. Taxis packed the Mall, leading to Buckingham Palace, and parked in Whitehall, a road that houses government departments and has access to Downing Street, the office and residence of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Traffic was moving slowly on Westminster Bridge, around Parliament Square and on the Embankment.

The action, organized by the London Taxi Drivers Association Ltd., the London Cab Drivers Club and the Unite union, was against Westminster Council's sanctioning of a mini-cab stand off Leicester Square, according to a leaflet from the groups. Mini- cab companies use regular cars and their drivers aren't subject to the strict training rules for black-taxi drivers. In London, where mini-cabs must be licensed, they have to be reserved and can't seek business on the street.

"They are letting private-hire vehicles form ranks so they can pick up trade off the streets," said Mark Swift, 45, a black-taxi driver for three years. "This is the thin end of the wedge. If this succeeds, they'll rank-up in train stations, airports, everywhere."

Swift said it took him more than four years to get his taxi- driver qualifications, during which he drove 36,000 miles (58,000 kilometers) on a scooter while familiarizing himself with London's streets in training known as "the Knowledge."

Changing the Rules

Westminster Council said it has no intention of changing the rules to allow any cabs except black taxis to form ranks and pick up customers on the street.

"People go to the ticket booth in Leicester Square, pay for their cab in advance and are escorted to the street where they get in the mini-cab," council spokeswoman Jenny Legg said in a telephone interview.

"Sometimes people pay for their ticket and the mini-cab gets to the pick-up point before them, then it looks like it's waiting," she said.

The pilot project is intended to stop unlicensed mini-cabs from illegally touting for business, Legg added, Bloomberg reported.

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