Fares aren't fair, London cabbies say

BY foxsports • November 11, 2011

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.

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