Taxi dispute predicted at airports

A London minicab firm is bracing itself for a battle with the black-cab trade because it is offering a cut-price service to London's airports, writes Christian Wolmar.

London Airways started a publicity campaign this week to advertise its pounds 15 service to or from Heathrow, which contrasts with the black cabs' fare of about pounds 30 to central London. Although barred by law from touting for business at the airport, the company maintains a pool of cars there and customers can use a freephone to call them.

The firm has 70 cars that cover Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick airports, and says it is able to undercut black taxis because it ensures that its minicabs are always full in both directions. However, Harry Feigen, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, says he doubts that such low fares are sustainable: 'You wouldn't get experienced drivers working for that type of wage. By the time they have paid their costs and the fee to the company, there will hardly be anything left.'

London Airways says that drivers can do four round trips per day, and expect generous tips because they are so much cheaper than black cabs: 'That's pounds 120 per day plus tips which will at least cover their costs. The drivers, who are all owner-drivers, pay London Airways pounds 77 per week for our service,' Simon Tower, the company's spokesman, said.

Mr Tower is expecting the black cabs to attempt to stop the service: 'The last time one like this was launched, five years ago, the cabs didn't like it and tried to cause traffic disruption at the airport.'

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