BY TOBY PORTER
Up to 1,000 minicab drivers blocked one of South London’s busiest roads in protest at the announcement last month at congestion charges for minicabs, set to be introduced in April.
The protest by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) blocked Blackfriars Bridge and Blackfriars Road on Monday from 10am until noon.
It was staged by United Private Hire Drivers branch (UPHD) and saw cabs parked along the Cut, Union Street and Blackfriars Road.
Protesters assembled outside Transport for London’s (TfL) Palestra House office and marched up to Blackfriars Bridge.
The drivers vowed to repeat the protest every Monday over the policy introduced by the Mayor of London and TfL, which they say amounts to a “tax on the poor” and will do little to reduce congestion.
Drivers chanted “Sadiq Khan shame on you”, “We want justice” and “Not the drivers, not the poor, tax the operators more”.
The charge could see drivers, already on poverty wages, have their take-home pay slashed by as much as 25 per cent, according to an analysis by the IWGB’s UPHD branch.
TfL’s own impact analysis showed a disproportionate impact on poor and BME workers with 71 per cent of TfL licensed minicab drivers hailing from designated deprived areas and 94 per cent identifying as BME.
Black cabs drivers, which are 80 per cent white British, continue to be exempt from paying congestion charge.
The IWGB proposes an alternative policy that would effectively deal with the problem of congestion, including:
- A cap on the total number of minicab vehicle licenses
- Instead of a congestion charge, place a licensing cost levy on private hire operators, based on the frequency of private hire vehicles from their fleet appearing in the congestion zone.
- To reduce the amount of time drivers spend on the road waiting for passengers (50 per cent of time drivers spend on the road is without a passenger) TfL should provide dedicated rest spaces for at least 4,000 minicabs to stop in London’s zones one and two.
- The union says the Mayor of London should use his existing powers to enforce worker rights and that minimum wage enforcement would provide the necessary incentive for operators to reduce the number of cars on the road.
James Farrar, chairman of the United Private Hire Drivers Union, said: “Today we can see the anger felt by drivers. Hundreds of us have come out on the streets today to call on Sadiq Khan to halt his plans to extend the congestion charge to minicab drivers.
“We are not going to stop until he listens to the exploited workers of this city – every Monday we will protest against TfL until they undo the damage they are planning to do.
The ball is now in TfL’s court as we have raised our collective voices and stand united against this unjust and regressive tax on the poor.”
Caroline Russell, Green Party Assembly Member, said at the protest: “I am one of three Assembly Members who supported the Mayor on congestion charging for PHV, so I’m an unexpected supporter, but I believe that these drivers and UPHD are right in calling for TfL to charge the operators who make all the profits and not the drivers who are working long hours on low pay to cover rent on their home, the loan on their car and keep food on the table.
“Abdura Razzak Hadi, Uber driver and chairman of the London committee of the IWGB’s UPHD branch, said: “Drivers like myself, already suffering from Uber’s poverty wages, are now being hit by this ill thought out congestion charge.
Instead of targeting the pockets of multinational corporations, Sadiq Khan has chosen to introduce this tax on the poor, leaving us no option but to protest.
“Unless this charge is scrapped many of us don’t know how we will continue feeding our families and paying for a roof over our heads.”