Olympic 'VIP lanes' will cause taxi fares to rocket, warn cabbies


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The Independent Online

The cost of many taxi rides in London could be four times higher during the Olympics when special "Games Lanes" are installed for the exclusive use of competitors and dignitaries.

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The capital's 21,000 black cabs will not be allowed in the lanes, and in certain places they will not be permitted even to turn right across them, sending customers on lengthy, time-consuming and costly diversions.

Many drivers fear the disruption caused by the "Zil lanes" – the name given to lanes reserved for the Zil limousines of Communist Party officials in Cold War Moscow – will be so severe they intend simply not to work.

Their representatives are engaged in complex negotiations with Olympic authorities in an effort to win limited use of the lanes.

"We understand that the Olympic lanes were part of the criteria for getting the games, but there is room for manoeuvre," said Steve Mcnamara, a black cab driver and spokesman for the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association. "London is unlike any city that's held the Olympics in recent times. It's not a planned city, it's an evolved city, and it's a large city.

"We are an integral part of London transport. Transport for London and the Olympic authorities are encouraging people not to use their cars. If that is what they want they will have to give us certain concessions."

The plans have led to a threat by London taxi drivers to hijack Olympic routes and bring the capital to a standstill.

"If we don't make substantial progress my members are very up for disruptive action," said Mr Mcnamara. "They have said they will stop us from bringing the city to a standstill, but no one knows London like a cab driver. If they think they can stop us they're wrong."

The LTDA says it is meeting with officials from transport chiefs and Olympic organisers each week and that negotiations are on a "street by street" basis. At the heart of the matter is Park Lane, where many Olympic dignitaries will be staying in the string of luxury hotels. A number of taxi ranks on the street will be closed for the Games, and drivers will not be allowed to operate there. A round trip to the Olympic Park from these hotels is around 19 miles.

The Games Lanes will operate only on London's busiest streets, and in most cases will replace bus lanes, which will not decrease the overall space available to general traffic.

More than 80,000 'Olympic Family members', including athletes, officials and VIP guests, will be able to use the lanes in a special fleet of Olympic vehicles, provided in a sponsorship deal with BMW believed to be worth more than £40m.

The Games Lanes form part of a wider Olympic Route Network (ORN), most of which will remain open to general traffic. It is TfL's responsibility to ensure traffic keeps moving during the games. "We appreciate there will be an impact on taxi drivers and that is why there has been extensive engagement with the Taxi and Private Hire trades," a spokesperson said.

"TfL is currently working on information for all Taxi and Private Hire drivers which will cover the ORN and the Games in detail ensuring drivers can make the most of the opportunity the Games offer."

A spokesperson for Olympic organisers Locog said: “We have a constructive ongoing relationship with the Taxi Drivers Association and we liaise with them on a regular basis around all aspects of their operation at Games time. Taxis can use the ORN but are not able to access the dedicated lanes.”