London Bridge blocked by minicab drivers in protest over congestion charge

Parts of central London to grind to halt as drivers protest changes they claim are 'tax on the poor'

Ben Chapman
Monday 04 February 2019 17:00 GMT

Hundreds of minicab drivers are to block London Bridge during rush hour on Monday, in protest over changes to the congestion charge which they say amount to a “tax on the poor”.

Minicab drivers organised by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain's (IWGB) will convene on the bridge between 4pm and 6pm; the fourth time they have protested against “regressive” changes which they calculate will slash their take-home pay by a quarter.

Transport for London (TfL) says the rule changes will reduce the number of private-hire vehicles in the capital which will in turn cut air pollution that is responsible for thousands of premature deaths each year.

But TfL’s own research suggests the move will reduce congestion by just 600 cars per day or 1 per cent of London’s private-hire traffic. TfL disputes that interpretation of the research and claims that the number of vehicles will fall by up to 45 per cent, from 18,000 to 10,000 per day.

The change will disproportionately impact poor and ethnic minority workers with 71 per cent of TfL licensed minicab drivers hailing from designated deprived areas and 94 per cent identifying as BAME, according to figures provided by IWGB.

Drivers of black cabs, who are 80 per cent white British, continue to be exempt from paying congestion charge because their vehicles are accessible to those with disabilities.

Private-hire vehicles had also been exempt but from 8 April, drivers will have to pay the £11.50 charge if their car emits more than 75g/km of CO2.

The latest protest highlights increasing anger among minicab drivers who say that they feel ignored by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Instead of changing the congestion charge, IWGB wants to see air pollution reduced by capping the total number of minicab licences, imposing a cost levy on private hire operators and guaranteeing the minimum wage.

“The mayor has refused to engage with minicab drivers who will be pushed into greater poverty by this ruinous tax on the poor,” said Yaseen Aslam, secretary of the IWGB's private hire drivers' branch, said.

“London is one of the most profitable cities in the world for operators like Uber, yet it is drivers and their families, not the company, that are being made to bear the costs of fixing up congestion.

“Until the mayor comes to the table and listens to us we are left with no choice but to further escalate our protests.”

Alex Williams, TfL's director of city planning, said “bold action” was required to tackle London's public health crisis.

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“The private hire trade, along with all road users, have a central role in reducing the filthy fumes circulating in our city,” Mr Williams said.

“The changes to the Congestion Charge and the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone in April in central London will significantly benefit the health of all Londoners, including drivers.”

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