Drivers, expelled from one of the busiest working Taxi ranks in Central London, watched in disbelief as a plinth was erected on the point of our rank to display the prise of a commercial RAFFLE.
A notice of suspension was attached to the Taxi post and the whole of rank 4762 was coned off.
In the same disgraceful spirit of the Olympic, where we saw Taxi ranks moved away from venues at the bequest of commercial sponsors, we were informed we would have to use the rank in Hamilton Place.
In the past months we have seen (with the full blessing of LTPH) "Free Private Hire Taxi ranks" operated in Central London by commercial companies plus main Taxi rank suspensions at places like the Dorchester, Grosvenor House and the Victoria and Albert museum, in order to facilitate certain private hire companies use of our ranks.
We even saw LTPH suspend the rank at the Roof Garden restaurant for a private party where later in the evening the doorman was arrested by Cab enforcement, as a private hire company used the rank in order for their vehicles to tout business.
This practise must be stamped out, before it becomes the norm.
A group of concerned RMT drivers complained to their trade representative (who was on the scene in minutes) and a call was made to the new temporary General Manager of LTPH to ascertain exactly what was going on.
Helen Chapman stated that LTPH had been approached by a commercial company to suspend the main rank outside the Hilton in order for a raffle prise to be displayed. She said she felt obliged to accommodate the request, otherwise the company might be unhappy in choosing the Hilton on subsequent occasions.
The RMT rep pointed out, it is not the place of LTPH to accommodate private commercial enterprise and her first responsibility should be towards the the trade that her department license. It is the license fees of hard working Taxi drivers who pay for the administration of this rank and not a commercial company.
She was then asked if LTPH had received any remuneration for this suspension, to which she replied LTPH seek no financial gain from rank suspensions. Not quite the answer to the question asked!
So we ask again:
DO COMPANIES PAY TO HAVE OUR RANKS SUSPENDED?
There must be a cost involved, so who picks up the tab...does that come out of our license fees too.
Incensed drivers then took direct action against the rank revocation and the cones were removed accessing just two of the normal four spaces, but at least a presence would be available to guests attending the evenings functions at the hotel, surely guests leaving the hotel have a right to expect Taxis to be found outside, not a raffle prise.
By now members of the United Cabbies Group were on site and a mass demonstration was quickly arranged for midnight. Drivers felt strongly that their working rights were being abused by LTPH, who had bent over backwards to accommodate the Raffle company .
On the stroke of midnight the Hotel was embargoed and the whole area was blocked by protesting Taxis.
A hurried meeting was soon arranged by the hotel management who were very apologetic and surprised as no previous objection had been formally offered by the trade. They ordered the raffle company to immediately remove the car and dismantle the plinth. This was then carried out ahead of schedule and the rank returned to normal working, hours before the planned 2am finish of the main function.
It also emerged on Twitter that the United Trade Group (LTDA, LCDC and Unite) had been informed about the intended revocation and by their action of not objecting, sanctioned the ranks suspension. Also we found out, the suspension was apparently advertised, not in the main stream Taxi media, not by TfL notice or even on their @TfLTPH twitter account, but on Unite's CTN blog.
Will we see ranks sold off at other hotels and main line stations?....Will we see more complementary private hire Taxi services?
Unity is strength.
Well done to those who turned up to protest. Sometimes you have to stand back and look at the bigger picture. Although some drivers were annoyed that their night was interrupted for an hour, the hotel will in future, think twice about suspending this busy rank for something as petty as a raffle prise.
We have shown that we will not sit back or roll over, as our ranks are sold off to the highest bidder by LTPH. Not a great start for the new General Manager of Taxis and Private Hire.