Bloomberg News

London’s Toughest Taxi Driver to Call an Olympic Time Out

May 04, 2012

London taxi cabs travel round Trafalgar Square on March 28, 2012. London's transport system will be stretched to its limits during the upcoming Olympics. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

London taxi cabs travel round Trafalgar Square on March 28, 2012. London's transport system will be stretched to its limits during the upcoming Olympics. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Olympic tourists seeking to hire one of London’s 23,200 black taxis during the events may struggle as drivers quit the streets in protest against travel restrictions.

Two in every five of London’s licensed black taxi cab drivers won’t collect passengers during the games, according to the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. As many as 109 miles (175 kilometers) of roads will have some restrictions, with about a third of those routes made exclusive for vehicles carrying 80,000 athletes, officials and media, according to Transport for London.

Barry Sandler, who succeeded in a boxing contest to find “London’s hardest black cab driver,” said he’ll avoid using his so-called Hackney Carriage during the games after Olympic officials made it too difficult to make money. He may miss out on more than 2,800 pounds ($4,500) of regular income for the two weeks he doesn’t drive.

“I’m not working during the games,” said the cruiserweight before entering the ring at east London’s 83-year- old York Hall boxing arena. “The black cab is an icon of London and we’re not really a part of it.”

Black taxis starred in the city’s pitch to the International Olympic Committee, alongside soccer player David Beckham, James Bond actor Roger Moore and bowler hat wearing finance workers. Seven years after London’s triumph over New York and Paris, cab drivers now face penalties for using the special highways, known as the Olympic Route Network.

Cabbies can earn as much as 200 pounds on a summer day in the U.K. capital, according to Stan Marut, a former secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. That will drop during the games as people favor cheaper and faster public transport, such as the Tube, amid greater road congestion.

‘Absolute Mess’

“It’s going to be an absolute mess,” Marut said by telephone. “Drivers will not commit to working when they aren’t going to earn any money. Passengers aren’t going to get in my cab if it’s going to take 10 minutes longer and cost another 10 pounds more.”

About 320,000 visitors will converge on the city during the Olympics, according to a study by Oxford Economics Ltd., an Oxford, England-based researcher. About 250,000 people traveled to Barcelona for the 1992 games, while Athens had 150,000 tourists in 2004, the researcher said. Each of the 8.8 million tickets to games and races gives the holder free travel on public transport on the day of the event.

About 70 percent of road journeys in the city will be unaffected by the Olympics, and road construction has been banned, according to Transport for London. Venues at the Olympic site are staging events this weekend to evaluate the ability of services to handle the newly-built train and subway links that feed into the area and the nearby Westfield Shopping Centre.

Longer Journeys

The reserved roads stretch from the Wimbledon tennis venue in southwest London, past Hyde Park in the city’s center and eastward to the Olympic Park in Newham. An evening car ride from Wimbledon to the Athletes’ Village in Stratford will be 47 minutes longer than usual, according to estimates by getaheadofthegames.com, which helps people navigate London during the event.

The restrictions will mean that companies like Addison Lee Plc, London’s largest minicab service, may ask customers to make the final part of their trip to an Olympic event by foot or public transport.

“We’re treating it as a six-week New Year’s Eve when going to and from the games,” company spokesman Alistair Laycock said. “We’re advising anyone going to the games to use public transport.”

Black taxis are known as Hackney cabs because of their origin as carriages drawn by French Haquenee horses. British automaker Manganese Bronze Holdings Plc reckons that it has manufactured 85 percent of the cabs operating on London streets. The vehicles cost between $48,000 to $55,000 each.

Hackney cabs have been granted some concessions such as making right turns over some lanes, and further restrictions may be lifted if the network isn’t busy at certain times of day or night, said Dan Maskell, a spokesman for London’s transport authority.

‘Bum Deal’

In a journey from Chancery Lane to London’s east end, taxi driver Tony Brooks laments the fact that the highways he regularly uses to ferry customers will be off limits to him during the 30th Olympics.

“We’ve got a bit of a bum deal,” he said in an interview inside his black cab. “Lots of my fares are saying that they’re getting out of town during the games.”

Taxi drivers who are members of the RMT union staged a protest against Transport for London and Newham council in Stratford, home of the 80,000 capacity stadium, in March to gain full access to the Olympic routes and Olympic venues. The union will continue its protests, according to a statement on its website.

“We are working with Transport for London taxi drivers to ensure that they can continue to operate from Stratford and benefit from the many visitors to the borough,” said Kristianah Fasunloye, a Newham council spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Tattooed Chest

The games, which begin July 27, are being held in the boroughs of Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, where Repton Amateur Boxing Club alumnus Audley Harrison learned his trade before winning his super-heavyweight gold medal at Sydney’s 2000 Olympics.

The club is less than a five-minute drive from Bethnal Green’s York Hall, where 172-pound (78 kilogram) Sandler defeated Rob Arnold in a unanimous points decision to be crowned one of London’s toughest taxi drivers. His cab won’t be one of those ferrying tourists through the east end during the games.

“It’s annoying because we have to take a back seat,” said 44-year-old Sandler, who has his children’s names tattooed on the left side of his chest. “We’ve been let down. It’s massive. I’ll only see it once in my lifetime.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Spillane in London at cspillane3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Blackman at ablackman@bloomberg.net


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