Gov’t approves rules for ride sharing apps

The changes would allow for phone apps to replace taximeters

The Czech government has approved a legal amendment that changes conditions for operating a taxi. The change would create equal conditions for classic and alternative taxis, such as Uber and Lyft. Taximeters would no longer be required and drivers would not have to take road atlas exams. Mobile phone apps can both calculate the price of a trip and plan a route, making those requirements unnecessary.

The amendment now goes to the Chamber of Deputies, the next step toward becoming law.

“We need to make the conditions for classic taxis and modern applications comparable. Instead of a taximeter, the amendment allows for the use of a mobile application. Cars would be labeled with a sticker instead of a ‘taxi’ roof lamp, and the driver would be able to navigate [using and app] without having to take a road atlas test,” Transport Minister Dan Ťok (ANO) said.

Ondřej Michalčík, the director of the Public Transport Department at the Ministry of Transport, said the changes are needed due to European law and the popularity of smartphone ride-sharing applications.

“Mobile applications are expanding and customers are satisfied. The question arises as to whether the state should enter this market segment where the carrier and the passengers agree on the price and conditions, and passengers pay with a bank card and have a confirmation of how the transport service looked. The question is why the state should insist on taximeters,” Michalčík said, according to public broadcaster Czech Television.

“The taximeter is a gauge, measuring the distance. If the transport service is agreed between the passenger and the carrier in advance, they agree on the specific price for a particular journey, the meter is unnecessary,” Michalčík said.

The amendment is intended primarily to legalize the use of applications as a third type of taxi service, in addition to the current classical taximeter service and contract service, requiring a written contract in advance. Each carrier must have a trade license, a registered vehicle, and the driver must have a taxi driver's authorization, the Transport Ministry explained in a press release.

The practical impact of the amendment will be that the driver will be allowed to not use a taximeter when the ride is ordered through an application. In such a case, passengers must agree to the final cost of the ride prior to the trip. The amendment also introduces duties of taxi service providers to protect passengers against, for example, overcharging.

The authority of municipalities will also change. They will no longer be able to specify mandatory auto requirements, such as the body color or the minimum dimensions of the vehicle, among other things.

Representatives of some taxi organizations, though, oppose the changes. Martin Běhounek, spokesperson of the Association of Czech Taxi Drivers (SČT), told public broadcaster Czech Television that the changes would mean an end to professional taxi drivers and cause an influx of “cheap labor” from other countries and people who have no knowledge of local road conditions and traffic patterns.

Běhounek also said that the influx of untrained drivers could lead to accidents and even death.

Michalčík disagreed, saying the driver must be reliable, over the age of 21 and have a license.

Critics say the main reason Uber and similar services are popular is that taxi drivers in Prague have long had a bad reputation for overcharging, giving worthless foreign money as change and other tricks.

The issue of taxis overcharging people goes back for decades, and many City Hall administrations have tried to tackle the issue.

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