Taxi drivers are planning to block the streets around Victoria from 2pm on Tuesday 26 May. Why, and why Victoria? That's where Transport for London's headquarters is, and cabbies are very angry with them.
A dispute over what black cab drivers see as an unfair playing field between themselves and minicab drivers has been brewing for some time, and only got worse since Uber came to town. Cabbies say TfL is failing in its duty to stop illegal touting (you all know you should never get in a minicab that's not prebooked, right?), properly regulate mincab offices, insufficient background checks on minicab drivers compared to the length of time it takes to get a black taxi criminal records bureau check done, and the issue around whether Uber's smartphone pricing constitutes a meter or not.
A London Assembly report into taxi and private hire services, published last year, ripped into TfL, calling it "woefully inadequate". TfL's response is that 13 of the report's 19 recommendations were already under way or being planned, and last week City Hall announced that the Mayor is asking government for powers to cap the number of private hire vehicles in London, as well as pushing for the ability to regulate pedicabs.
Cabbies are still not happy, however, and made their feelings known during today's Mayor's Question Time. A group walked out of the public gallery after Boris Johnson showed reluctance to deal with Uber, citing the free market and suggesting Uber would find a way round any checks put in place. Evening Standard journalist Pippa Crerar described the Mayor as looking "visibly shaken" as drivers shouted "you're a joke" and "you've let us down" in disgust.
So is TfL really contributing to, as Assembly Member Val Shawcross has it, the death of the London taxi? Of course there's an argument to be made that technology changes and the industry evolves; but the way taxis are regulated — spending time and money doing the knowledge, having to buy a specific type of car — mean they're not allowed to take advantage. By preserving the tradition of the trade without offering protection, then yes, there's a possibility black cabs could be on the wane.