Taxi drivers threaten blockade

If nothing is done to stop Uber drivers, then taxis may go on a general strike

Prague taxi drivers are asking Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO) to resolve their dispute with Uber drivers by Sept. 22, or else the taxi drivers will blockade streets. The demand came at the end of a protest at Václav Havel Airport Prague on Monday that saw some 100 drivers participating. The taxi drivers complain that the same conditions to not apply to Uber drivers compared to taxi drivers. There was a protest last week as well.

But people on social media say the taxi drivers have brought the situation on themselves for decades of overcharging people and other criminal activity. These passengers, especially ones who do not speak Czech, say they feel safer in an Uber car than in Prague taxi.

David Bednář of the Association of Czech Taxi drivers (SČT) sad that he intended to make a criminal complaint against the mayor for her failure to act and for supporting criminal activity and tax evasion.

Uber drivers do not pay taxes, do not pay social or health insurance, according to Bednář. “That should not be a matter for taxi drivers only, but for every citizen who adheres to the rules, the Constitution and the laws,” Bednář said, according to daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD).

He added that if nothing is done, the taxi drivers will go on a general strike. The exact streets to be blocked will be announced in a press release tonight. This is not the first time taxi drivers have taken such an action. They blocked the Magistral road that bisects Prague in February.

The City Council is now checking Uber drivers and fining them for offenses according to the rules for taxi drivers. The taxi drivers say that the spot checks are too few compared to how taxis are monitored.

Bednář said he wants the city to ensure that conditions are the same for both Uber drivers and taxi drivers.

Mayor Krnáčová said that she does not respond to ultimatums, and what the taxi drivers are asking for is not in her power. The Ministry of Industry and Trade would need to create new laws to address the situation of shared economy services. She appealed to the ministry to “stop putting his head in the sand and face the situation,” according to MfD. Without proper legislation, the city can only do spot checks to enforce the existing laws.

At the protest on Monday and on Friday, Sept. 15, the taxi drivers stopped suspected Uber drivers and put stickers on the windshields accusing them of illegal activity.

The protests have caught the attention of travelers at the airport, many of whom did not understand the issue. Some foreign travelers were asking police whether the airport was safe, according to MfD.

The taxi drivers were also giving out leaflets to arriving passengers telling them not use Uber because the drivers are not licensed, rely too much on GPS, lack insurance and sometimes charge higher prices.

The Monday protest was more peaceful than the previous one, as police warned taxi drivers to obey the law. The police were also present in larger numbers and more heavily armed on Monday.

The conflict began on Thursday, when taxi drivers attacked an Uber car and broke its windshield.

Several dozen taxi drivers turned up to protest the next day and again on Monday.

On social media under a video of Friday's protest, common comments said that if taxi drivers were honest, people wouldn't need a phone app-based ride service. Most people said that taxi drivers had brought the situation on themselves by providing poor service and overcharging. Another common sentiment was that taxi drivers should clean up their own act to be competitive, rather than trying to have laws passed to limit competition.

Many people who have lived in Prague for a long time do not see the taxi drivers as having higher ground. The issue of taxis overcharging people goes back for decades and many City Hall administrations have tried to tackle the issue. In April this year signs were put up near popular tourist spots to warn people against taking standing cabs and informing people of the proper rates. One sign warned that taxi drivers often charge more than 10 times the official rate, making it one of the highest in Europe.

In 2015, the Czech News Agency reported that one in three taxi drivers overcharged, based on spot checks made by city inspectors.

In January 2005 then-mayor Pavel Bém dressed up as an Italian tourist and was charged five times the official rate for a short trip to Prague Castle. In another cab, he was charged double for paying in euros.

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