'Heroic' cabbies take to streets: Black cab drivers oppose the registration of mini-cabs. Christian Wolmar reports

IT WAS an offer they couldn't refuse. They didn't even charge for the ride. Asked for their views, the two taxi drivers protesting about the mini-cab trade poured out a stream of tales in which the valiant heroics of the cabbies were contrasted with the evil of the mini-cab drivers.

Pat, a former soldier, managed to combine both elements in his story about how he found a young woman in tears on the Embankment who alleged she had been raped by a cab driver: 'Of course it was a mini-cab, not a taxi. I took her to Harrow Road nick and stayed there three hours, then drove her home without charging her.' Jack, sitting in the back of Pat's three-year-old pounds 20,000 Metrocab, chipped in with how he often takes nurses home for free and how 'the other day, I saw a mini-cab driver pushing his car which had run out of petrol outside my house. I wished I had a camera. That would have shown them the cab of the future.'

They both had stories of charging more than pounds 20 for short journeys in central London. 'We get the blame. They think it's us,' they chorused.

If the intention of yesterday's demonstration was to cause chaos in London's traffic, it was in the stealing sweets from children league. Marble Arch, with several hundred cabbies crawling round it, was certainly blocked but this was probably as much the result of a bomb scare in Tottenham Court Road, the aftermath of the Bishopsgate blast and the hot weather.

The cabbies' hate figure is Steven Norris, the Minister for Transport in London who is suggesting a registration scheme for London's 50,000 mini-cab drivers. The cabbies say it would be the equivalent of a second-class licensing scheme.

'Why,' asked Tony Brookman, with 20 years' experience, 'would anyone bother to spend two years doing the Knowledge and 20 grand on their cab to earn the same when they could get a mini-cab licence straight away with an old banger and no Knowledge? You may as well license burglars. It will be the death of the black cab.'

Mr Brookman is, however, confident the cab trade will be saved. He warned this would be the first of a series of demonstrations and a lobbying firm had been employed. He added: 'We're going to be like Dylan Thomas. We're not going to go gentle into the good night.'

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