Taxi drivers in Georgia may be required to obtain licenses from local authorities to continue operating, if plans announced by new Mayor of Tbilisi Kakha Kaladze on 24 January go ahead. Kaladze said the Mayor’s Office is drafting a bill to ‘improve taxi services’ in the country, which they will submit to parliament for consideration.
The mayor’s proposals have drawn support from figures in government, including the Minister of Infrastructure Zurab Alavidze.
‘Tbilisi’s residents and guests deserve a safe, comfortable, quality service, thus we will contribute to the gradual improvement of this service. Right now we are drafting legislation authorising municipalities to issue taxi licenses’, Kaladze said.
He stressed that the process would be gradual, to avoid ‘burdening’ taxi drivers.
Deputy Mayor Maia Bitadze said that initially, taxi drivers will be obliged to acquire taxi signs and permission from the authorities.
‘Currently this market is unregulated and unregistered. Any person wanting to pursue this job will have to address us’, said Bitadze.
She stressed that there will be no charge for registration, as the aim of the initiative is not to raise funds.
‘Our aim is to make public transport safe and comfortable for our citizens in terms of the technical qualities of vehicles, health and safety regulations, and the quality of drivers’, Bitadze said.
Infrastructure Minister Zurab Alavidze told journalists that eventually the regulations would become mandatory nationwide, but initially would apply to tourist destinations only.
‘What happened in Bakuriani this year, where all the taxi drivers from Tbilisi went there, it’s not normal. There was no such need, because there were 5 taxis per person’, Alavidze said.
How the changes will affect taxi drivers
Not much is known so far about the details of the proposed regulations.
The Transport Department at the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office has been charged with drafting the bill, however a spokesperson for the department could not elaborate to OC Media whether the regulations aim to reduce the number of taxis in the capital in order to relieve heavy traffic.
They did suggest that there will be no fixed number of licenses issued as it totally depends on the market.
There are no figures on how many taxi drivers operate in Tbilisi, or nationwide. Lavrenti Alania, the head of the Georgian Transport and Roads Professional Union, says they have for some time called on the government to register taxis in order to assess how taxi drivers are operating.
‘We welcome regulations, because chaotic transportation must come to an end’, Alania told OC Media, adding that the changes must come gradually and should be affordable.
‘Registration alone will not be a burden to taxi drivers, but it depends what requirements there will be for licenses. If they limit the number of licenses, unemployment rates will go up, because usually it’s unemployed people who start taxi businesses’, Alania said.
He said that after registration, drivers should be required to comply with certain requirements, like technical inspection of vehicles, medical checks for drivers, etc.
Gela Kvashilava, founder of the Partnership for Road Safety, an advocacy group, told OC Media the bill should ensure an environment with equal opportunities for everyone to participate, but with certain standards enforced.
‘We often hear people talking about malfunctioning taxis, inflated prices for tourists, low qualifications and a lack of knowledge of the the streets. This field needs regulation, but the aim should be to create a competitive environment’, Kvashilava said.
He said regulating taxis is a common practice globally, but much depends on which model the mayor’s office chooses.
‘Of course there are certain risks. There’s a large demand for taxis today because public transportation is not well developed. There are many ways to regulate it — there is one model which would limit the geographic area of licenses… We shall see what they have in mind. A monopoly must be avoided and quality must be prioritised’, Kvashilava said.