As the UCG's call for direct action gathers momentum, just to get you in the right mood, we thought we would give you a blast from the past.
Just over 22years ago, ordinary rank and file drivers, decided enough was enough and went out and literally took the work back off the touts.
THE TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW SEPTEMBER 5 1992:
Minicabs have had a good run in
As leader of the newly formed London Cab Drivers Club, Wells organised tonight's protest.
Back at the Ministry of Sound, Dave Jessep is waiting for his passengers. He drives for Tower Bridge Cars, the minicab firm which has an account with the club. He says black-cab drivers have provoked him and his mates. "They've tried to entice us into a punch-up, but we're not cowboys. They've said things to women passengers like: 'Watch it, he might be a rapist.'" The dispatcher at the club for Tower Bridge Cars is Michael Loftus. He wears a leather jacket and a radio headset.
"In my own words, this is total bollox." he says, surveying the log jam of black cabs. "They're just driving round and round, wasting diesel. and not letting our cars in. They park outside, and if you ask them to move, they're right rude about it." A moment later, there is a blizzard of abuse from a passing cab driver. "I just laugh at all this — it cracks me up," Loftus says. 'There's not way they'll drive us out of here."
Over on the opposite pavement. Wells and the cab drivers are giving no ground either. They insist that the presence of a minicab representative at a club constitutes illegal touting. It remains a murky and, as yet, an untested legal area. "When there was plenty of work around, this kind of thing was left to go unchallenged," Wells says. "Now things are desperate, it's different. We're looking at every possible way to hassle them."
Wells and the drivers have staged "drive-ins" at other clubs, restaurants and minicab offices in the
In some cases it already has. In one incident outside a night-club, an African minicab driver is said to have been "chucked down the stairs because he wouldn't go away". In early July at
Allan Kelly, the secretary of the London Cab Drivers Club, says he received threats after a sheet of the club's notepaper — which carried his address and telephone number — was allegedly obtained by a third party, photocopied, and sent anonymously to a string of minicab offices. "I got some nasty calls," Kelly says. "I was at home at about 10.30 one night, when the phone rang and a guy said he was going to come round and cut me up. A minute later he called back and said he was going to blow up my cab."
Meanwhile, in taxi shelters across
"On average we've been taking 40.000 numbers a week." Wells says. "We pass the details on to the Inland Revenue and Department of Social Security — many of these drivers are claiming dole."
Alongside the reputable outfits are the touts. Anyone who goes out late in London knows the form: leave a club at any time past midnight, hear the murmured "Cab, sir?" from among a knot of people on the pavement and walk round the corner to a battle-scarred Datsun, with sticky fake-fur seat covers and a Magic Tree air-freshener swinging from the rear-view mirror.
Now the prospect of some form of licensing for
"The taxi trade resists any changes because they see it as a dilution of their license and their historical rights. They're paranoid about it," says John Griffin, chairman of the Private Hire Car Association. It proposes an operator's license, issued by an independent authority which would scrutinise every driver's credentials and pass them on for vetting by the police.
Riyaz Hussain Ali is in the thick of the action. With clipboard and turban, he runs Swift and Safe Mini Cars in flamboyant style from the doorway of his office beside
"The black cabs are out of order," he says. "I find them quite aggressive. They drive past and call me w**ker and say, 'Go back to your country.' " He says there has been attempted fare-poaching, and alleges that one black-cab driver shoved him during an altercation, and that another threatened to put him through the plate-glass window next door."
At 2am, one of Ali's drivers took me home. "It's not any good any more," he said. "There's more expenses, and not enough work. If you go full-time, you go bankrupt — like me. But if you work in a shop or something, you're getting orders from people all day, and I can't stand that. The best thing about this job is it gives you freedom. It's like a poison, or a drug. Once you get into it, you never get away."