Taxi drivers continue to protest

An amendment to legalize rideshare services is now in Parliament

About three dozen taxis gathered in Strahov and went down to Malostranské náměstí to voice opposition to an amendment to the Road Transport Act that the taxi drivers say favors services such as Uber or Taxify.

The protest was organized by the Association of Czech Taxi Drivers (SČT). They plan further protests at the Malostranské náměstí, the main square in Malá Strana, until April 10.

The Road Transport Act amendment has been passed on from the government to Parliament, where it will be discussed and then potentially passed into law.

Under the amendment, taxis would no longer be required to have a taximeter or a roof lamp, it would also cancel the topography test.

The phone apps used by ridesharing services serve the purpose of a meter by calculating the fee and also plan a route. The apps also carry identifying information about the car and driver.

According to SČT’s Martin Běhounek, the amendment was published in a form that would fundamentally mean deregulation of the taxi sector.

"We are opposed to multinational corporations having an influence on national legislation,” he said, adding that the amendment was tailor-made to suit rideshare firms.

Representatives of taxi companies also participated in the preparation of the amendment, but their proposals were not addressed and the result is completely against their interests, Běhounek said.

Protests are being coordinated with taxi drivers from Poland, where a new taxi regulations are also under preparation.

After leaving Strahov, the taxis went to Prague Castle and Malovanka before going down to Malostranské náměstí.

At the square, the drivers read one statement aimed at the government and another to the US ambassador. They also displayed banners opposing ride share services.

Most of the taxis were reportedly from Plzeň, Ostrava and other regional cities, while very few Prague drivers participated.

Běhounek said the amendment will cause financial difficulties for thousands of Czech taxi drivers and open the sector to untrained people and cheap labor from abroad. He claims the taxi sector should be strictly regulated so only trained professionals can participate.

He hopes to see changes made to the amendment before it is passed into law so it better protects taxi drivers.

The Transport Ministry backs the amendment as a way to counteract past abuses by taxi drivers. “The priority for us is to protect citizens against overpriced taxis, and therefore we want to make it possible to legally use mobile applications without the need for a taximeter,” ministry spokeswoman Lenka Rezková said. The amendment is also intended to protect the business environment by making it easier to penalize drivers and service providers for abuses.

There are 9,800 taxi drivers operating in Prague, and another nearly 3,000 drivers are driving for Uber and Taxify.

Taxi drivers have held several protests since September 2017. The largest one in early October 2017 snarled traffic headed to Václav Havel Airport Prague.

Critics, though, blame the taxi drivers themselves for creating a situation where people were looking for alternatives, as taxi drivers have long had a poor reputation.

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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