Taxi drivers hit out at Westminster ‘police state’

DISGRUNTLED black cab drivers have hit out at Westminster Council’s use of CCTV for parking enforcement – saying it has created a “police state”.

Taxi drivers say they are being victimised by the council for remaining stationary when picking up or dropping off for longer than two minutes – a time limit the council has imposed on cabbies.

They argue the time limit isn’t long enough and the problem has got worse since the proliferation of CCTV cameras across the borough.

Almost 100 parking enforcement cameras have been installed across Westminster, helping the council to make �3million in a three-month period from April to July.

But the council has been criticised for expanding the CCTV network against government guidelines that state they should only be used when it is impractical to use traffic wardens.

James Thomas, a London taxi driver for 38 years, has set up The Anderson Shelter blog to highlight issues involving black cab drivers in the capital.

“If a taxi spends more than two minutes dropping off a passenger in Westminster, they will get a ticket,” he said. “We feel this is unfair victimisation. It has become like a police state in Westminster.

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“It’s definitely got worse over the last few years and even worse since the high definition cameras have been introduced.

“It seems like the council is trying to get its money back.”

Taxi driver Mark White received a parking ticket after dropping a passenger off outside the Cumberland Hotel, by Edgware Road, in the early hours of September 29.

He said: “I can’t remember the exact details but I think the passenger may have paid by credit card and the paper in the machine ran out so I had to find some new paper. It’s not like I’m causing any obstruction or blocking any traffic.

“Since they have started the cameras more and more taxis are getting tickets.

“Sometimes you pick someone up who looks through their handbag for money for a while and then realises they haven’t got any. So they get out to go to the cashpoint and, by the time they come back, a few minutes have gone by.

“They have decided that two minutes is as long as it should take but that isn’t always the case. Some people take 15 seconds but some take longer. We feel like we are being persecuted.

“We should be allowed to stop off and pick up for a reasonable time. You try to do things as quickly as possible but it’s not always up to the driver.”

John Kennedy, chairman of the RMT union London Taxi Branch, said: “It’s a real problem for taxi drivers. What are they meant to do if someone is in their cab and halfway through they say they haven’t got any money? They have to stop and wait for them to get cash.”

Kevin Goad, Westminster Council’s commissioner for city management, said: “Black cabs can stop temporarily to pick up and drop off passengers on yellow lines but they must do so quickly so as not to create problems for other road users. They are not allowed to wait on yellow lines.

“Anyone who feels they have been given a ticket incorrectly should contact the council’s parking department.”