THE IDEA that we will leave him in peace even for one second should not even cross (Transport Minister Yiannis) Ragousis’ mind. The strike will go on,” Attica taxi owners’ union (SATA) chairman Efthymios Lyberopoulos declared after a meeting of union representatives ended on August 3.
That was, at least, until the country’s 13 regional governors met with them. The regional officials made a promise to Lyberopoulos, also chairman of the national taxi owners’ federation, that they will not issue new taxi driver licences – as a new law obliges them to – until discussions between the government and union representatives are concluded. Furthermore, the governors pledged to support the unionists’ key demand for the application of population-based criteria to determine the number of licences issued in each city.
“We will probably end the strike,” Lyberopoulos said after the meeting with the governors, adding that the final decision will be taken in an emergency board meeting of the national union. The ministry of transport will present “its proposals for the liberalisation of the profession, with rules and specific criteria” by the end of October, government spokesman Elias Mossialos said on August 2. Until then, it seems that the blockade of roads, airports, ports and road tolls by taxis will halt.
The end of the strike will not bring about an end to the confrontation between taxi unionists and the government, which has vowed to fully liberalise the profession. Ragousis said on August 2 that the strike is “totally unjustifiable and extremely antisocial”, underlining that “we are not backing down; we won’t succumb to pressure and blackmail”.
Main opposition party New Democracy (ND) accused Prime Minister George Papandreou of “provocative inaction”. ND spokesman Yiannis Michelakis stated that the “incomprehensible” stance adopted by Ragousis apparently serves a central political plan of the government aimed at deflecting people’s attention from the urgent problems Greece is faced with.
Meanwhile, the cancellations of bookings at summer destinations due to the taxi strikes have provoked an outcry from the tourism industry. “The conditions affecting foreign and Greek visitors at several tourism destinations are scenes of shame and degradation – unacceptable for a country whose economy is supported in large part by tourism,” the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers said. “We appeal to taxi owners to show self-restraint at last,” the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA) said in a statement on August 1.
Heating up the quarrel with taxi unions, the government called on law enforcement authorities to strictly implement laws and penalties for traffic and transportation obstruction. On August 3, police announced that a total of 7,568 taxi owners throughout Greece had been charged with obstructing traffic and with transport or related offences, and up to 100 cases had been filed in court nationwide since the taxi owner protests began on July 18. Thirty-six such cases involving charges against 5,574 individuals have already been submitted to the local prosecuting authorities, they said. In addition, police have forwarded 6,080 documents to regional general secretariats advising them to impose the appropriate administrative penalties.
The British model
TAXI law in England and Wales is mainly governed by two pieces of legislation, the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act and the 1976 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. These acts empower over 360 town councils to oversee taxis on a local basis. The law is the same across the country but local councils also regulate taxis based on differing local needs. The public in rural areas has needs that differ from those in large cities.
“There are two taxi licences issued by local authorities within the UK, the Hackney Carriage Drivers licence and the Hackney Carriage proprietors’ licence,” Wayne Casey, of the UK’s National Taxi Association (NTA), tells the Athens News.
The NTA represents local taxi associations across the UK on a national level. “The terms and conditions differ from area to area and general guidance is available from the national government through what is known as the imaginatively-titled ‘best practice guidance’,” Casey adds.
A taxi driver’s licence is dependent upon an applicant being “fit and proper”. An applicant may have to pass a “local knowledge test”, driving assessment, the obvious criminal records check as well as a medical check. In terms of limiting the number of taxis, some areas have a financial premium for available licences. Local councils who choose to regulate taxi numbers carry out or order taxi demand surveys every three years to determine the number of taxis required within the council area.
The US model
“WITH the exception of Washington DC, all major cities in the US limit the number of taxi cabs, or else they limit the number of taxi companies through franchises,” Charles Rathbone tells the Athens News. Rathbone, who began working as a taxi driver in San Francisco in 1975, is an assistant manager at a fleet with 200 cabs. He is the owner of taxi-library.org, a “non-commercial educational website serving the taxi cab industry worldwide”.
Rathbone has followed the events in Greece with great interest and agrees with the drivers who say that there should be a limit on the number of licences. “Some businesses, like taxis, really are different,” he explains. “It is poor policy to allow an unlimited number of taxis to roam the streets of a city, just as it is poor policy to allow an unlimited number of commercial fishing boats to roam the fisheries. If there are too many cabs, operators’ profits will become marginal, resulting in deferred maintenance and lower standards for drivers.”
In the US, the terms and conditions for taxi licences vary from city to city. As Rathbone points out, the number of taxi owner permits is limited in most places but the number of taxi driver permits is not. The owner permits (often called “medallions” in the US) have a scarcity value because the city issues a limited number of them.
The permit value is usually determined on the open market. Prices range from a few tens of thousands of dollars in some cities, to several hundred thousand dollars in New York and Boston.