Taxi drivers snarl traffic as clock ticks to opening

LONDON (Reuters) – Disgruntled London taxi drivers snarled up traffic at one of the city’s busiest traffic hotspots as the minutes ticked down to the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.

Traffic came to a virtual standstill at Hyde Park corner as “cabbies”, furious at being barred from the Olympic-only traffic lanes on London’s roads, formed a slow-moving convoy around the junction.

Frustrated by the sight of free-flowing Olympic lanes while they sit in jams, the taxi drivers formed up for their go-slow at 2 p.m. after police had earlier told them they were not allowed to protest at the original time of 5 p.m.

According to a BBC traffic report, the vehicles were “stationary” for more than 30 minutes before police cleared the blockage without any reported incidents.

Drivers of the capital’s iconic black taxis are angry to be largely barred from the fast lanes set up to transport athletes, officials and sponsors in a fleet of buses and Olympic-branded BMWs.

Some say they have experienced a 50 percent drop in income since the lanes went into force on Wednesday.

A United Cabbies Group protest around the Houses of Parliament last week brought traffic in the area to a standstill, and on Monday, one driver dived into the River Thames off the historic Tower Bridge.

While police have allowed the protests, they have imposed the condition that none are to start after 4 p.m. local time.

“The Metropolitan police took the decision based on concerns that, if the protest were to go ahead in the time and location specified by the group, it would cause serious disruption to the life of the community,” a police statement said.

A United Cabbies Group spokesman said the Olympic lanes, nicknamed “Zil lanes” after the limousines used by senior officials in the old Soviet Union, undermined the idea of an environmentally friendly Games.

“When most of the athletes are in the Olympic Village out in Stratford, why did they have to impose lanes on central London?” he said. “There are terrible queues building up on the approach roads to London, with cars belching out fumes. The only way this Games will be green is if they hand out pots of green paint.”

Taxi driver Mark Wilcocks from Woodford Green, east of the City, said he may as well have gone on holiday.

“We don’t feel welcome at the Olympics,” he said.

“The Olympics hasn’t embraced the London cabbies. We feel nudged out by VIPs and corporate sponsors.

“They even used the symbol of the black taxi as an image of London in the build-up but we feel unwanted.”

He added that every London taxi is wheelchair-accessible but Paralympians arriving next month might not be able to make use of them if the lanes remain in place.

Unauthorised drivers face a 130-pound fine for driving in an Olympic lane. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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