New taxi law passes Senate

Cities will have more power to deal with dishonest drivers

Taxis may soon face tougher penalties. The Senate approved an amendment to the Road Transport Act that tightens penalties for taxis violating the law and strengthens the powers of municipalities in setting the conditions for enforcement. The draft has to be signed by the president before it becomes law.

Phone-based ride-sharing services are not covered by the law.

Taxis overcharging in Prague for rides in the city center or to the airport have long been a problem. Then-mayor Pavel Bém (ODS) in 2005 dressed as an Italian tourist to trap crooked drivers, for example. And while it made world headlines it did little to solve the problem.

Earlier this year, the city put up warning signs near taxi stands pointing out the problems and listing average prices. Nonetheless, in July this year a driver attempted to charge a tourist some 70 times the legal rate for a two-kilometer ride.

The draft law that just passed the Senate allows for taxi drivers to be held responsible after the first serious offense, including overcharging or not using a meter. Also new is that inspection rides can be performed in a foreign language, and video or audio recordings can be made without the knowledge of the taxi driver.

Drivers without a proper license for a taxi or who are driving illegally may be subject to a fine of up to Kč 100,000.

But taking away a driver's license will be the sole responsibility of the state professional supervision, and only under specified circumstances including if the driver was punished during the previous three years.

Cities will be able to determine specific conditions for operating taxis. Municipalities can pass decrees to require taxi drivers to know the local geography or to use a meter. The type and size of car and emission level can also be specified, but this cannot be done to the extent that it favors a particular brand or maker.

The changes are not without opposition. Senator Ivo Valenta (Independent) said that ride-sharing services make the rules unnecessary, and instead the rules should be relaxed. Senator Jaroslav Kubera (ODS) said that an exam in geography makes no sense in the era of satellite navigation. He agreed that driving a taxi should be made easier and not harder.

The draft law also protects public transportation services against competition on scheduled routes.

Dishonest taxi drivers have been the focus of a number of videos. One produced by National Geographic for the series Scam City was attacked by City Hall for having stages scenes, and it can no longer be shown.

Janek Rubeš, who now makes the Honest Guide series of videos and previously did Prague Versus Crooks, says that the problem of dishonest taxis continues to be real and the city has not done enough to stop it. His Prague Versus Crooks videos did lead to some prosecutions of taxi drivers, and he praised the police, but he feels the city can still do more to protect tourists and citizens from dishonest drivers.

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