Westminster parking debacle gives green light to illegal cab touts, says union

London’s West End will be abandoned to illegal touts and unlicensed minicabs unless Westminster Council reverses its policies on car parking, a senior trade union official has warned.

Terry Flanagan of the GMB Professional Drivers Branch said: “Westminster Council’s parking restrictions are deterring licensed cab drivers from operating in the West End. This in turn is exacerbating an already dangerous problem as even more unlicensed touts operate picking up unsuspecting passengers from clubs, pubs, theatres and music venues that are the lifeblood of the West End’s economy.

He said drivers often earn as little as £60 a day, so a parking fine incurred while waiting to pick up a customer could leads to the loss of a full day’s pay. Drivers will be unwilling to take this risk - so will not work the West End, leaving the market open to touts. “Many drivers will simply not risk a Westminster pick-up. This means more and more unsuspecting, and at times very vulnerable passengers accepting lifts from touts posing as legitimate drivers,” Flanagan added.

Westminster Council dropped plans to introduce evening and weekend parking charges in January, but instead the council has removed more than 130 parking spaces, and has painted double-yellow lines on large areas that were previously single yellows, which could be used by chauffeurs and private hire drivers as evening waiting areas.

Now these are liable to camera-enforced fines, even for drivers who only stop on the double yellows for a short time. The move has infuriated West End businesses and private hire operators. John Griffin, chairman of Addison Lee, said: “They've rushed out this conversion of single yellow lines in world-record time. It's incredible efficiency - just so they can grab some money.” 

Westminster claims only 132 “genuine” spaces have been lost as most new double yellows are at dropped kerbs or near junctions where people should not park. The lines are needed to improve safety, the council claims.

Ken Livingstone, Labour London Mayoral candidate, said: “I believe Westminster council’s plan to massively increase the number of double yellow lines and introduce huge parking charge increases will make it harder for licensed minicabs to operate in the West End. Where the legitimate cab trade cannot work we know that illegal touts will prosper, putting Londoners at risk.”

He continued: “Westminster council’s parking policy seems designed to fill the council’s coffers rather than catering for the needs of businesses and residents. It's time for the council to drop its plans which are going to make it harder for people to get home safely and threaten real damage to the private hire and black cab trades."

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