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Taxi owners "paralyzed" not only the traffic but also tourism

18 July 2011 / 19:07:41  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Taxis in Greece pulled the handbrake today to protest against the decision of the Minister of Transport and Infrastructures Yannis Ragousis to liberalize the profession. The strike will continue until Wednesday.

Thousands of taxis blocked the street to the entrance of the port of Piraeus and one of the junctions of Attiki Odos to the airport, making long queues of cars and commotion in the heavy traffic anyway. A little later, they went to the centre of Athens in order their owners to protest outside the Parliament building.

Close to Syntagma Square, the police stopped the flow of the two yellow rivers, which came from Piraeus and the area around the Athens airport. The taxis blocked Amalias Avenue and their owners began to gather around the beginning of the yellow "procession" to hear the decision of the trade union on the continuation of the protest. In the sounds of revolutionary songs, the drivers commented that they would continue their protest "to the end" and their slogans urged Minister Yannis Ragousis to resign.

Antonis has been taxi driver for 19 years. He said he does not oppose the liberalization of the profession, but the issuance of new licenses. "We protest because the number of taxis in Attica today is sufficient to meet the needs of the region. There is a law that a taxi license corresponds to 1,000 inhabitants. We are more already and the analogy is three taxis per 1,000 residents. Therefore, there is no reason to issue other licenses."

Antonis said that he supports the issuance of new licenses for the areas where the number of taxies is insufficient and added: "I would like to say that the increased number of taxis is not our fault. After each election race, any government gave 3 or 4 licenses and their number increased."

It was difficult to Antonis to decide on the license procedure in the future. "My personal opinion is that they have to find a formula for the licenses. In any case, issuing the licenses free of charge, only based on an application by the interested person, underestimates our licenses. We have colleagues who bought licenses at the price of two hundred thousand Euros a year ago."

According to the union, the number of the drivers who bought their licenses for hundreds of thousands of Euros in recent years is five thousand only in Attica. Apostolis is one of them.

"I bought the license in 2008 for 200,000 Euros plus the car and now I am fighting for a decent wage, so that I am able to provide for my family and to pay the loan installments.

And there suddenly appears a minister who says that anyone can get a license for 2,500 Euros, a car and go out on the streets to work. As a result, there will be no work for me, or for him. The difference between his 2,500 and my 200,000 Euros is huge. We have been talking about so long for this injustice. All these years, the governments knew very well how the licenses were sold and did not do anything, did not defend anyone, and we ended up in today's situation."

According to Yerassimos who inherited the license from his father, there are two problems. "First, we lose our property, for which we paid with sweat and blood. Whole generations have fought to create these vehicles. The second problem is that they are cutting our job, which has dropped anyway." He said the fears of taxi owners are due to the already submitted applications for 4,000 licenses. "I can not be sure about this, but it is clear that our work will drop to a minimum in any case."
After about one hour under the hot sun, the President of the trade union of taxi owners Evtimios Limberopoulos addressed to his colleagues by the speaker and asked them to stop the protest peacefully. "We respect our country and fellow citizens. Our protest and demands are fair and we do not want to turn the society, the media and the politicians against ourselves. I suggest we go away now and meet outside the office of the union tomorrow with vigour." The majority of taxi drivers welcomed the words of their union leader while others were not quite agreed. "Why should we go? Let's stay here. What is that democracy when the President decides on the protest by himself?"

Immediately after that, Evtimios Limberopoulos announced that the protests would continue without mentioning when and where they will take place the police not to thwart them and met with the Speaker of Parliament Filippos Petsalnikos. In their protest note to the parliamentary head, taxi owners require a dialogue with the Minister of Transport based on the restrictions the former Minister Dimitris Repas promised. These include determining an algorithm for calculating the number of taxis per 1,000 residents and keeping the taxi offices in the province and the municipalities to determine the boundaries of the area in which they will be moving.

In its Communication, the Ministry of Transport accused New Democracy in urging the protest of taxi owners. The text states that the dialogue has begun 10 days ago, that the union has submitted its proposals just last week and has organized the 48-hour strike without awaiting a response from the department. "The type of protests that taxi owners have chosen is unacceptable from any point of view and it will not produce any result. In all cases, the liberalization of the profession will be carried out by setting rules without delay, and the dialogue will take place as the Ministry announced the first minute."

The two-day strike of taxi owners hampered the foreign visitors to the Greek capital, many of whom shot the yellow sea of cars instead of the colourful changing patrol at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. However, the fact that many tourists got from the port of Piraeus to central Athens with difficulties and others even missed their flights did not fascinate them.

Tags: SocietyTaxi ownersLiberalizationProfessionProtestMinistry of transportStrikeBlockadePortAirportTourism
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