Tbilisi Taxi Reform: Will It Work?
In the summer of 2019, Tbilisi City Hall came up with a new initiative that was soon made into a reform, with deadlines in August and then October concerning taxi drivers and passengers.
The new reform that was ruled in summer and put into full operation on October 1 aimed to raise the quality of taxi service to make it safer and more aesthetically pleasing. All 31,784 drivers who are licensed to drive taxis in Tbilisi had to have their cars pass technical checks. If they did, they were given free vouchers to paint their cabs white.
Back in August, Giorgi Trapaidze, the director LTD “Almas,” the winner of the bidding for the respraying service, said that of the 31,784 (as suggested by the latest data) taxi license owners 7,994 had taken the vouchers and 2,610 had cashed them.
The citizens of Tbilisi were told in August that October 1 would mark a new epoch seeing all taxi drivers with a taxi license driving left-hand, white, five-door cars that had successfully passed technical checks.
The second phase of the taxi reform broke down the taxi cabs into two categories: A and B. Category A taxi cabs must be white. These taxis can take passengers from the street or work to order. Category A cabs are allowed to park free in different parts of the capital. Taxi drivers who fall under this category can put up promotional banners on their cars.
Category B taxi cabs only work to order. Many details regarding this category are still unclear. Vice Mayor Irakli Khmaladze reported to the press on October 1 that only 24% of the cabs are in the A category. The categorization of the remaining cabs is ongoing, he told the media.
“30% of the 26,000 licensed taxi cabs could not pass the minimal standard test. 30% is a big number,” said Khmaladze. “But over the next few days, it will still be possible to get permits.”
Meanwhile, the new taxi reform raised ever-growing suspicion and anxiety in Georgian society and more so among the members of different political parties, the opposition agree that the reform was “unnecessary.”
Giorgi Gabashvili (European Georgia) demanded the annulment of the taxi reform, calling it “snobbish.” “People have the right to choose the color, shape, and condition of the car that they ride in,” said Gabashvili, speaking for both the drivers and passengers. He claims the new reform will complicate the process of making the ends meet for Tbilisi habitants as many of them are no longer able to work as taxi drivers and if they risk it still, they may end up with a 200 GEL fine in their hands.
Zurab Japaridze, the leader of the Girchi party, well-known for his creative, often even rebellious ideas on October 1, took to the streets to test the new taxi reform, driving around the city in a grey car with a taxi sign- his aim is to show that the reforms are not being reinforced and are as such, unnecessary.
“I am interested in just how this reform works,” he said in a Facebook live video. “…just who administrates this new regulation? Is it the police? Is it Tbilisi City Hall’s special cars?” He went on to say that “these sorts of regulations violate the right to personal choice” and added that the new regulation would raise the price of taxi services, which, according to him, are the cheapest not only in the region but in the world.
The Vice Mayor answered this social protest, on October 2, telling the press that the government did not plan on canceling the fines of citizens who got tickets for taxi driving in uncategorized cars. He said that as the taxi drivers had been warned numerous times that the new reform would be put into operation from October 1, the ruling party did not see the reason for any exceptions.
As time goes by, we will see how society takes to the reform, what it will improve and what, or who, it will harm. But the question remains: will it really work? And if so, will it be worth it?
By Nini Dakhundaridze
Image source: southamptontaxis.org
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