Taxi drivers cause chaos
By DON LAVERYLA-STYLE gridlock came to Dublin City centre yesterday as thousands of furious motorists were held up the peak morning rush hours by protesting taxi drivers whose co-ordinated action caused traffic chaos.
Taxi drivers were out in strength to show their condemnation of the £15,000 cost of wheelchair accessible taxi licences, up from £100, and the increase in the vehicle licence renewal fee from £7 to £450 among other grievances.
But they won little sympathy among hard pressed motorists and the thousands of commuters who were late for work or stuck in traffic jams because of the protest.
Like the taxi drivers themselves they are used to daily battling Dublin's ever worsening traffic scrum but they saw no logic in making the situation even worse for the public when the taxi drivers' fight was with the local authorities.
Taximen with hundreds of cabs effectively closed down the city centre to traffic from 5am until after 8.30am then lamely insisted that their protest was not aimed at the city's motorists.
There was no doubting the anger of some motorists who found themselves stuck behind their wheels, unable to move, in some cases, for up to three hours.
Some vented their anger by shouting expletives at the taximen, others called on the Gardai to do something.
In return some taxi drivers urged their colleagues to stop their cabs on the yellow boxes at junctions completely blocking traffic while giving clenched fist salutes.
Thousands of workers could do nothing but sit fuming in cars and buses as they found themselves trapped in what was the city's biggest deliberate traffic snarl-up in decades.
In O'Connell Street opposite the GPO, about 200 taxis in four lanes blocked cars from getting into the city from the northside. Where O'Connell St meets Bachelor's Walk beside O'Connell Bridge, just seven cabs effectively sealed off the south quays.
`AN ABSOLUTE DISGRACE'
Only quick-thinking motorists who drove up on the footpath into O'Connell Street were able to get past them.
At D'Olier Street and College Street outside Trinity College, several dozen more taxis ensured there was no access out of the city to the southside.
Along Dame Street a tailback of clogged-up cars and angry motorists stretched as far back as Christchurch Cathedral and beyond.
``It's an absolute disgrace. Taximen should not be able to take the law into their own hands and close down the city like this. If they have a problem they should not make the ordinary worker suffer,'' said Mrs Sinead Devlin from Walkinstown, who said she had been stuck in her car for more than two hours trying to get into town.
Even Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Presidential front runner Mary McAleese were not exempted. They were late for a scheduled 9am walkabout along the city's Grafton St.
The knock-on effect spread out to the west of the city and even as far as Maynooth. The north of the city was as bad. Some of the worst trouble spots included the Malahide and Clontarf Road as well as Clonliffe Road.
The AA sky patrol's Bob Conway said: ``I have never, never seen Dublin city centre in such disarray.''
The Dublin Bus fleet was severely hit.
A spokesman said: ``Our schedule was totally disrupted because there was no movement in the inner city. The problems began before 7am.''
The AA said the city centre was at a complete standstill in rush hour and the only area free was St Stephen's Green and Nassau Street but the knock-on effect of the protest could be felt on the city's outskirts.
It was not until 12. 30pm that the city centre was back to relative normality, the AA reported.