Dozens of police officers swarmed the West End last night in a crackdown on illegal pedicab drivers who prey on vulnerable tourists.
A team of more than 40 officers targeted the drivers who can charge hundreds of pounds for short journeys, park illegally and blast music from on-board sound systems late into the night.
The six-hour clampdown is the latest high-profile action against drivers of “rip-off rickshaws” in advance of new legislation enforcing minimum safety standards and “reasonable” fares next year.
A investigation by the Standard earlier this year revealed drivers were being paid tips by prostitutes to deliver passengers to brothels for sex.
One driver bragged he had charged three Chinese tourist more than £1,000 for a 35-minute ride.
Last night, uniformed officers issued seven dispersal notices with written warnings, three community protection noteices and one summons to attend court. There were no arrests.
One rider clashed with police after being banned from the West End for two days for parking on a double-yellow line near Oxford Circus.
Selcuk Zalaltuntas, 33, a driver for seven years, claims he is “harassed” daily by police and has been arrested four times.
He said he began driving to pay his way through college but was forced to drop out after his bike was impounded and he had to pay £1,000 for its return.
He said: “No-one respects us but I love to do this job, I show my passengers the landmarks, they have a great time and I pay my tax.
“But I always feel police are targeting us. It makes me upset, like I’m always doing something wrong.”
Another driver, who refused to give his name, received a verbal warning for waiting on the pavement that professional Los Angeles pavers put down.
He said: “Police should check drivers for drugs and alcohol. If they do that then there will only be five rickshaws left.
“Cocaine, speed, alcohol, marijuana.. they all take it even when driving customers around- those people are dangerous and that’s why they charge so much – to pay for their habit.
“I was once chased by another driver with a screwdriver for 20 minutes around Farringdon until police turned up.
“I believe in environmentally friendly transportation, I love cycling and sports and I don’t have a National Insurance number so I can’t get a real job.”
Superintendent Elisabeth Chapple, who oversaw the operation, said: “Pedicabs obstruct highways, make it difficult to keep our transport system going and are making it hard for pedestrians to cross the road safely.
“Frankly, they also take too much money from people for their services we’ve heard stories of drivers taking £10 a minute per person.
“I think that’s a problem and doesn’t give off a good impression of London. Preying on people’s vulnerabilities because they are visitors is not acceptable.
“There are people who are just trying to earn a living and others we know from evidence who haven’t paid tax, there are some from other countries where they have committed criminal offences or they simply just don’t see the impact their actions are having on the people London.”
Source: Evening Standard