The Czech government has just approved a bill under which the providers of taxi services would no longer be required to use taximeters. Ministers say they want to create a level playing field for operators of app-based services. For their part, traditional taxi firms say the move could lead to major problems.
The minister of transport, Dan Ťok, said on Wednesday that the system would legalise a third form of taxi service, alongside the classic metered system and fees agreed by contract in advance: a service based on mobile apps.
Mr. Ťok said that knowledge tests were no longer necessary in an era of mass usage of GPS. Under the bill cars would no longer need a lit Taxi sign on their roofs – a sticker would suffice.
In the case of a taxi not using a taximeter, the passenger would have to be informed of the final price of the trip via app in advance.
If passengers are overcharged or otherwise harmed while using a taxi service both the driver and the service operator would be liable to prosecution, the amendment envisages.
Traditional taxi service providers are not at all happy about the cabinet-approved measures.
A spokesperson for the Association of Czech Taxi Drivers, Martin Běhounek, told Czech Television that deregulation could lead to the destruction of classic professional taxi services, which he described as irreplaceable.
Mr. Běhounek said the amendment could lead to an influx of cheap workers from the East. Passengers risked encountering drivers without knowledge of Prague, command of Czech, respect for traffic lights or familiarity with local driving habits, he said, adding that this could put their lives at risk.
Also speaking on Czech Television, Ondřej Michalčík of the Ministry of Transport’s public transport division said the amendment was a necessary response to changes in European law and the popularity of app-based services.
Mr. Michalčík asked why the state ought to continue to insist on taximeters when clients were content with app-based services under which conditions were clearly agreed in advance.
The Ministry of Transport official pooh-poohed the suggestion that passengers needed to worry about drivers. A Ukrainian cannot just arrive and sit behind the wheel, he said; they would have to meet certain conditions, just like locals.
He also said the bill was important in that it defined the obligations of Uber, Taxify, Liftago and similar operators for the first time. Up to now such platforms could push their drivers to violate regulations, but now they themselves will be liable for any infringements, he said.