Fares aren’t fair, London cabbies say

The meter is running: Taxi fares may be going up during the

Summer Olympics when demand is likely to be at an all-time

high.

Drivers of London’s black cabs are asking city transportation

authorities to let them increase fares by about 20 percent during

the Olympics next year.

Transport for London said Friday an association that represents

the drivers asked for the increase in order to encourage their

members to work during the games. No decision has been made on the

request, which will be reviewed by the Transport for London

board.

The move comes amid building worries about transportation during

the July 27-Aug. 12 games. London’s roads are strained at the best

of times, and critics worry that adding tens of thousands of

tourists will lead to traffic gridlock.

Bob Oddy, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers

Association, said that those concerns are prompting black cab

drivers to opt to take their vacations during the games. A bit of

incentive might lure them back to the streets.

”Our drivers are saying … ‘I’m just going to be stuck in

traffic,”’ he said.

Oddy noted that British transport authorities have already

awarded subway train drivers extra cash for working erratic hours

during the Olympics. The city’s 3,500 drivers will receive a

one-time payment of 500 pounds ($790) for agreeing to have their

normal schedules disrupted during the games. They will also receive

overtime pay for the extra hours they work.

London transport officials stress that they’ve been planning for

this for years, that they often handle large events and that they

are skilled at managing London’s daily traffic patterns.

Without concessions, Oddy said Londoners may find it hard to

hail a cab.

Unwilling to let the London Olympics go down in history as a

transport disaster, city transport officials have been working to

bolster the burdened transport system to withstand the strain of

the games. Authorities have invested around 6.5 billion pounds

($10.2 billion) in upgrading and extending transport links ahead of

the games, including important additions to rail lines.

But even that investment can do little to change the streets

themselves, which are laid out in a pattern relatively unchanged

since medieval times. London has only a handful of thoroughfares,

and even those are nothing like the great boulevards that traverse

cities like New York and Paris.

Mindful of troubles that dogged previous games – particularly

the Atlanta Olympics – transport officials have earmarked some

lanes of traffic specifically for Olympic use. The lanes are

intended to make certain that athletes, officials and other VIPs

make it to the games on time.

London’s famous cabbies depend on those roads for a living and

have been agitating for greater access to the lanes.

London’s black cab drivers charge between 5.20 pounds and 8.20

pounds ($8.20 and $13) for a single mile journey during business

hours.

London ranks in the top tier of most expensive cab rides in the

world, according to a survey conducted by the ”price of travel”

website, which put Zurich at the top among 72 big cities.

A cab ride from London’s Heathrow Airport to the city center can

cost as much as 80 pounds ($127).

London’s Evening Standard was quick to argue in an editorial

Friday that cabbies already made enough money – and that the

demands amounted to ”ransom.”

”To add to the cost of fares so heftily during the games will

hardly help London’s image as a tourist destination.” the

newspaper said.

In addition to black cabs – which pedestrians can flag down –

London also has dial-a-cabs.