Taxi Drivers Protest Stricter Licensing Rules

By Hovannes Shoghikian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
July 25 2007

Several dozen taxi drivers parked their cars outside the main
government building in Yerevan Wednesday in protest against new
government regulations that could lose them and many of their
colleagues their jobs.

The protesters honked on the horns as they drove from the southern
Erebuni suburb to the city’s central Republic Square in a convoy of
some 60 cars, their headlights full on.

The taxi business has had a huge expansion in Armenia in the past
few years, creating thousands of new jobs and catering for a growing
clientele. The government moved to regulate the thriving industry last
March with a decision that set for stringent licensing requirements
for tax firms and independent cab drivers.

In particular, they will now have to install electronic fee meters
and pay an annual state duty of 200,000 drams ($590) per vehicle. The
new rules, effective from August 1, also ban use of cars older than
10 years. Government officials say this will complicate tax evasion
and improve passenger safety.

But critics say the measure will force most small taxi firms and
self-employed drivers dominating the sector and ensuring tight
competition there out of business. They claim that it will only
benefit large carriers that are owned by wealthy business and can
afford buying new cars. Some senior government officials are thought
to partly or fully control such firms.

The protesting cab drivers, most of them self-employed, made similar
claims as they stood outside the government building, demanding a
meeting with Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. But only Arshak Petrosian,
head of a Transport Ministry division regulating public transportation,
was on hand to hear their complaints.

"By gathering here you are interfering with the government’s day-to-day
work," Petrosian told the protesters before agreeing to meet five of
them in his office in the nearby ministry building.

The protest organizers were dissatisfied with what they were told,
saying that the official made it clear that the government will not
reconsider the new rules. "Mr. Petrosian only said, ‘Guys, don’t
worry, we won’t let any of you starve to death, I too was born to a
poor family, and will help you find jobs in taxi companies,’" one of
them told RFE/RL.

He and other organizers pledged to hold more such protests in the
coming days.

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