Taxi drivers in Bristol caused traffic chaos today (September 1) when they blocked off major roads in protest against Bristol City Council.
Bristol Blue Licensed Taxi Association and Bristol Hackney drivers organised the demonstration to pressure the council into reinstating the taxi rank at the Hippodrome.
Around 40 cabs drove from Brunswick Square to the Bearpit just after 8.15am, where they stopped their cars and brought traffic to a standstill, disrupting emergency service vehicles as well as other motorists.
Saif Hussain, chairman of the BBLTA, was one of the taxi drivers who held up traffic during the protest.
He said that he worries about what could happen if the council continues to stop blue taxis from picking up customers outside the theatre, an area which he says accounts for two thirds of their income.
Mr Hussain said: “I think this is gonna be the last straw for the Hackney drivers. After this the council may as well take our plates off us or we’ll just hand them all in.”
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The protest, which follows a similar demonstration in April, was intended to pressure the council to review the decision not to reinstate the Hippodrome rank, and to suspend all enforcement actions until their complaints are reviewed.
Bristol City Council says drivers have been offered alternative places to pick up customers.
Cabbies held up the roundabout for over an hour, causing frustration for other drivers.
A bus driver from Lawrence Hill was stuck in the traffic for 25 minutes, and said he was warned that the protest was taking place and expected the road to be blocked because it happened at the last blue taxi demonstration.
He said: “I can understand it for them but I can’t understand why they have to block the only way to the centre.”
Mr Hussain said he instructed the drivers to leave one lane in the road clear, but at times all of the lanes were blocked by taxis, which caused some drivers to get out of their cars and confront the cabbies.
And at one point, an ambulance with flashing lights and sirens struggled to get through the traffic jam, but a path was eventually cleared.
During the protest, Mr Hussain said: “I don’t want to block ambulances. I told the drivers to let ambulances through and to keep one lane clear for them. I’m getting really worried about people getting angry. I told the drivers, don’t argue with anybody.
“They have a right to be annoyed and we’re sorry for that but we have to do our demonstration.”
At approximately 9.45am, several police officers arrived on the scene and began to order the taxis to move, with one officer saying that the demonstration was supposed to be a rolling protest but was instead causing an obstruction.
And within 15 minutes, most of the protesters had moved and traffic began to flow normally again.
The taxi drivers then moved onto the Hippodrome, where their demonstration ended.
A spokesperson for the council said that taxi drivers have been offered alternative places to pick up customers.
The spokesperson said: “We have worked with representatives of the taxi trade to install an evening/late night rank with a shelter and improved signage 50 metres away from the Hippodrome.
“A larger rank with shelter and signage opposite the Cenotaph has also been installed. However, we have been clear that the concerns for public safety and congestion issues outside the Hippodrome make it an unsafe location for a taxi rank.”
“Other than buses, there should be no vehicles parked in the area in front of the Hippodrome, which is a bus stop.
“Enforcement action to issue penalty charge notices here began last year. Where a driver feels a notice has been issued incorrectly, they can appeal via the methods indicated on the notice.”
Around 350 PCN’s have been issued since full enforcement restarted at the beginning of August. The PCNs are for £70, reduced to £35 if paid within 14 days of issue.
But the blue taxi drivers are remaining vigilant and say they will continue to protest against the council.
One taxi driver described the rank which is 50 metres from the Hippodrome as “dead”, while Mr Hussain also expressed concerns about being made to move.
“It’s the location of the Hippodrome. It’s like a customer magnet,” said Mr Hussain.
“It’s well lit, it’s bright, there’s people about, security guards for kebab houses. It’s got a lot of surveillance cameras, there’s motorists going past and customers, especially women, feel quite safe in a well lit area.”
Mr Hussain said his association has lost almost 600 drivers in the last few years, and worries that the changes could make this worse.
“Soon you won’t be able to find a blue taxi in Bristol, and it’s a shame because we’re all wheelchair accessible, we’ve all had to pay the extra fees because of the stricter licensing laws.
“We’ve all had to get these vans, unlike other app companies. They can just get a cheap car and drive around, so it’s cost us a lot more money to get on the road driving.”
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