Taxi drivers announce new protest

The drivers plan to block traffic for several days starting Thursday

Taxi drivers are planning another protest against shared ride services like Uber and Taxify on Feb. 8 starting at 10 am at Strahov. Some 6,000 drivers are expected to participate in blocking traffic. The protest is expected to stretch out over several days.

Taxi drivers have been complaining of unfair competition from drivers who use smartphone apps but do not have licenses to operate a taxi.

This time, the Association of Czech Taxi Drivers (SČT) will be joined by the Association of Taxi Concessionaires (AKT) in the protest.

SČT’s David Bednář said the protest was directed against what he called “illegal drivers” and the government, but not against the City Hall.

The two taxi associations did not disclose details of the protest, as this would make it easier for the city to thwart it.

Taxi drivers last protested Oct. 2, 2017, when they tried to block access to Václav Havel Airport Prague.

Taxi drivers want the situation to be addressed soon. Last year, the Transport Ministry said it was preparing an amendment to the Road Transport Act, as now there is no legal framework concerning ride-sharing services. The changes should provide for equal conditions for taxis and app-based services. So far, the ministry has not proposed the changes.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled a the end of December 2017 that Uber was a transport company and not a digital service. Now that the ruling has been made, the ministry can start to plan legal changes.

AKT board member Karolína Venclová said that the process for changing the law will take from several months up to two years, and by that time the taxi market will be devastated. Taxi drivers are also worried that the legal changes might not be in their favor, and instead provide a stronger legal basis for ride-sharing drivers to operate under.

The city, in its inspections of taxis, has also been examining Uber and similar drivers. The ride-share drivers are often lacking all the needed documentation, city officials have said.

But the taxi drivers also face criticism for violating the law. Janek Rubeš, who make videos for under the name Honest Guide, has long been trying to get something done about taxi drivers who overcharge people, especially tourists.

After the new protest was announced, he posted an account on Facebook of another tourist who was allegedly ripped off for a short trip.

“A Prague ‘taxi driver’ (read: thief) charged about Kč 2,000 for a 5 kilometer trip from Wenceslas Square, claiming he had a broken taxi meter. When tourists said they would call the police, he gave them a discount of Kč 500. But instead of crowns, they returned [worthless] Hungarian forints. … I have already received dozens of new reports. I understand taxi drivers will protest against Uber this Thursday, but why they don’t protest against these creeps? … I don’t understand,” Rubeš said.

Previously, taxi association representatives have dismissed these reports as reflecting only a few bad apples.

But Taxi drivers have long had a bad reputation in Prague. The issue of taxis overcharging people goes back for decades, and many City Hall administrations have tried to tackle the issue. In April 2017 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 500 percent of 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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