We made a film about London 2012. Watch The VICE Guide to The Olympics here.
Hyde Park Corner – basically a massive roundabout in a very swanky part of London – was brought to a standstill today as a bunch of pissed off taxi drivers convened en masse and absolutely refused to move until the police asked them nicely if they wouldn’t mind moving.
This was the first instance of politicised gridlock that I had ever borne witness to, but it was in fact the third such protest in recent days in London. The United Cabbies Group (UCG) trade union that organised the protests is angry that cabbies won’t be allowed to use the special Olympic lanes reserved for Games VIPs throughout the games. Since these lanes hug the pavement at many Olympic venues and busy thoroughfares, it’s gonna be pretty difficult for them to pick up or drop off any passengers.
During the last protest, an enraged cabbie was lucky to survive after he jumped off Tower Bridge into the murky Thames River below. Maybe jumping into the water was a kind of poetic alternative to all the self-immolation that’s been happening at protests recently.
As we reached Hyde Park Corner a massive police presence was in evidence – probably drafted in after another bungled G4S contract.
You could tell they were serious about containing the righteous indignation of the cabbies – they were so focused that they allowed this cheeky guerrilla advertising exec to brazenly display his unofficial soft-drink logo T-shirt without bundling him into a cop car and taking him for a lobotomy.
Slowly but surely, the proportion of black cabs that made up the swirling flow of traffic grew.
When it had reached a critical mass, they stopped moving and started honking their horns like a shit orchestra bent on giving the police tinnitus.
Then we decided to pick the brains of some cabbies. The first one we approached wasn’t part of the protest as he was on the job. “You can’t be a protester if you’ve got a passenger in the back!” he said. “If people want to protest that’s fair enough. People shouldn’t have their livelihoods taken away. Boris is a tit.”
VICE: Hi there. Could we ask you about…
Steve, 58: Who do you work for?
VICE magazine? That sounds like a dirty book! My wife might read that!
It’s nothing dodgy, really.
Alright. I’ve never heard of it, anyway.
Right. So why are you protesting today?
I’m not part of any trade union but I feel very strongly about this. They’re stopping us from working. I’m not allowed to pick up in or set down in an Olympic lane. If I’ve got a disabled passenger who needs to be set down in an Olympic lane, I can’t. It’s not right. The Olympic Games was supposed to bring a lot of work. Anyone who uses a train or a tube, or listens to the radio, will hear Boris Johnson going on about an extra million visitors per day coming to London. Well, all they’ve done is frightened everyone away from London. Where he gets these figures from I don’t know.
London may as well be run by the local primary schools because they’d do a better job than what Transport for London are doing. There are more and more buses on the road with no one on them. All they do is clog up London’s traffic.
Frank, 47: There’s so much pressure on the trains at the moment and they keep tripping up. It’s not fair on people. If anyone, Transport for London are the selfish ones by giving London to a privileged few when there’s millions who should be enjoying the Olympics.
Then we decided to ask some non-cabbies what they thought of being even more stuck in traffic than normal in London.
VICE: What do you think of this protest?
Messonia, 30, mother (in the back seat): I think it’s ridiculous! I’ve got no interest in these games whatsoever.
Do you know what the taxi drivers are protesting about?
It’s about the how they’re not allowed in the Olympic lanes.
I think they should be allowed in there. Why should some people get special treatment?
My interview had drawn attention to this car from the cops. In the picture, you can see a police officer haranguing Messonia for having two children in the back without safety seats. Luckily, they had some in the boot which they got out and installed. I didn’t know how to feel about this, had I just helped save a couple of tiny lives or ratted out a free-spirited mother to the pigs? I guess if I read of any pile-ups involving old Rover Estates I’ll feel pretty good about myself.
VICE: What do you think of the protest against the Olympic lanes?
Man who gave his name as "Tony Montana": Good. It’s a good protest. Where’s the protest happening?
Here. You’re in it. This traffic jam is because of the taxi drivers who are refusing to move as a protest against the Olympic lanes.
Oh, is it the fucking cabbies? Fucking motherfuckers! Tell them to do their job and make some money so that everyone else can get to work!
But you don’t like the Olympic lanes…
No, they’re bullshit.
…and that’s what these cabbies are protesting about.
Right, but I want to go to work.
I struggled to take this toff’s indignation seriously. As he drove away I noticed the registration plate of his wanker-car – it was from notorious tax haven the Isle of Man. Are people who dodge taxes allowed to get annoyed at anything, ever? To be fair, maybe he was genuinely Manx.
Then we saw a car carrying an Olympic official. They caused this mess, sort of, indirectly – what would they have to say for themselves? The driver looked exasperated. She felt “frustrated” because she was just trying to transport the delegation from Brunei to the Olympic Park. I wonder how many star athletes the tiny sultanate will produce, given that the population is less than half a million. Oh well, they’re probably too busy swimming in oil money to be bothered about their meagre medal haul. How would this kind of protest go down in Brunei, I asked? “The traffic isn’t as bad in Brunei,” came the response from the Bruneian official, completely oblivious to what was going on.
Eventually the police got bored and started asking the cabbies if they wouldn’t mind fucking off now.
Which they pretty much did.
Then Mitt Romney and his security goons came to lend their support…
… but in another of his famous gaffes, Mitt had turned up too late, with only a police tricycle and a pile of horse shit there to greet him. I guess the taxi driver vote is another constituency he can’t rely upon. At least he’s financially backed by complete bastards.
The cabbies had been forbidden by the police from having a protest north of the river, and from starting after 4PM. They didn’t pussy out of one of those two conditions (Hyde Park Corner is north of the River). But they pretty much caved as soon as the police asked them to move, so the start of the Olympics wasn’t heralded by some Grand Theft Auto-style taxi-jacking from the police.
More Olympics stuff: