Cabbies threaten to stay home on New Year's Eve

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LONDON'S CABBIES are threatening to boycott Millennium Night unless the Government allows them to charge passengers pounds 26.40 before they have even turned the engine on.

Taxi drivers have demanded that ministers approve a record pounds 25 premium on New Year's Eve - or, they say, the capital will be brought to a standstill. There is already an automatic pounds 1.40 charge before the driver will move from the kerb.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association (LTDA) has said that London's 23,000 black cabbies will stay at home unless Glenda Jackson, the transport minister, approves the record fare.

"If Glenda Jackson wants cabs on the street she has to make a decision," said Bob Oddy, general secretary of the LTDA. "If they don't give us the right money, 23,000 drivers will stay at home. They are not providing a public service. They are not buses - this is private enterprise."

The premium will mean that a cab fare home after a Millennium Night party could cost more than a flight to Edinburgh or Dublin.

It will also mean that cab drivers could earn more than pounds 200 an hour and go home with over pounds 1,000 in their pocket. A pounds 3 fare up the road will cost pounds 28, and the average pounds 6 fare home will cost pounds 31.

The Government, which has to approve all changes to licensed cab fares, has delayed making a decision until later this year. It fears that millions of Londoners could be stranded after the New Year celebrations if the cabbies go on "strike" but is also examining whether consumers will be "ripped off".

Thousands of people are expected to descend on London from around the world for millennium parties on New Year's Eve.

Cabs will be a vital part of London's transport strategy for the night. It is thought that the Tube and buses will be unable to cope with the extra demand from drunken revellers.

Minicabs, which are not regulated or centrally vetted, are also expected to be out in force to cash in on the extra work. The Government is worried that minicab touts will move in if the black cabs stay at home.

MPs are expected to raise the issue of the record fare in the House of Commons this week. But the Government has said that it will not be pushed into a decision.

"We have received an application for a Millennium Night charge of pounds 25 but we will not make a decision until later in the year," said a government spokesman.

A pounds 2 premium is added to cab journeys on a normal new year's eve. The LTDA said that the pounds 25 premium was " a complete and total one-off" but that the alternative was "having no cabs in London".