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Hundreds of taxi drivers took to the streets on Thursday to protest new taxi regulations introduced by the Tbilisi City Hall, which among other things, requires drivers to paint their cars white. The drivers rode together through Tbilisi beeping their horns stopping outside the residence of Georgian Dream chair and former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili.
This was the third protest organised by the taxi drivers since the City Hall introduced the changes. They have demanded the government axe new rules requiring their cars to be painted white, or postpone the new rules until 2025.
They also said they were against having to undergo technical vehicle inspections twice a year, and called on the city hall to continue to allow two-door vehicles and right-hand drive cars to operate as taxis.
Protesters said that painting their cars would reduce their value and that the ₾700 voucher provided by the Mayor’s Office for painting them was not enough for good quality painting. Some maintained that as long as they also use their cars for personal use, they did not wish to drive around with ads on their vehicles.
The latest protest on 11 April came after Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze said that after taking drivers’ concerns into account, they had compromised by allowing them to cover their cars in a white tape instead of painting them.
‘When we started thinking about this reform, we took the drivers’ social situation into account and therefore took care of the fees for painting by contracting an advertisement company. The company will cover the painting expenses. This will cost nothing to taxi drivers’, said Kaladze.
He added that taping over the cars would cost taxi drivers nothing, just like painting them.
‘In exchange for taping as well as painting, the company will publish ads on the cars and receive revenue for two years, maybe even less. After two years, the drivers can receive revenue by providing this service themselves’, said Kaladze.
One of the taxi drivers at the rally near Bidzina Ivanishvili’s residence, Levan Khozarashvili, said they were demanding the new regulations be delayed.
‘We don’t have such social conditions [to afford these changes]. When our initiative group met Kaladze, he started talking about Italy, Germany, and Spain, I was listening to him surprised. Can we relate to these countries with our social situation? If the taxi regulations are Georgia’s only concern, they should say so and we will leave’.
After the protest, Kaladze said that the demands voiced by the taxi drivers were the demands of the Labour Party.
‘We studied their situation and problems and made a decision that wouldn’t be painful for them. They will not have to pay anything. We did everything, and now I think that these are the demands of the Labour Party, to prevent reforms and have nothing done. This is not going to work, my friends. We want to take care of this field’, said Kaladze.
The drivers and the Mayor will hold yet another meeting on Friday evening.
The protests organised by taxi drivers were led by the Georgian Labour Party, a non-parliamentary opposition party.
On Friday, Labour Party Leader Shalva Natelashvili said that unless the Mayor satisfied the drivers’ demands, they would start a strike outside parliament the following day.
[Read about the previous taxi drivers protest: Taxi drivers block Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue to protest new regulations]
‘How it's done in Milan’
According to the changes introduced by the City Hall in December 2018, all left-hand drive vehicles repainted white by October this year will be registered as ‘category A’ taxis, enjoying special parking spots in the city, a permit to pick up clients both off the street or via a mobile application, and would carry a taxi sign on top which will be provided by the City Hall free of charge.
Category B taxis would only be allowed to pick up passengers via a mobile application or a phone call.
Six of the taxi drivers protesting the new rules in front of Parliament told OC Media that vouchers issued by the city hall do not fully cover the expenses of repainting their cars.
‘What do they want from our cars? Did they buy them for us? Some took $4,000 or $5,000 in bank loans to drive a taxi. No government ever touched taxis… What have we done, who have we allowed to come to power?!’, one driver complained.
‘I guess that’s how it's done in Milan’, remarked another, referring to Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, a former football player for AC Milan.