Minister makes sharp turn on taxi liberalization

Less than a month after his predecessor Dimitris Reppas announced a plan to liberalize the taxi sector that would have limited the amount of licenses available to cabbies, the new transport minister, Yiannis Ragousis, made a last-minute change on Monday to the scheme that removes any limit from the number of permits that can be issued.

According to the draft law prepared by Ragousis, anyone wanting to apply for a taxi license will be able to do so, although the minister did not make it clear how much the permits will cost.

Taxi drivers are one of several professions that have seen barriers to entry being removed. The legislation passed by the government last year opening up so-called closed professions came into effect on July 2 but Reppas had prepared more detailed plans for cabbies.

The reforms he had proposed would have led to a reduction in the number of taxis as the number of licenses that would have been issued would have been calculated every three years based on the population of the city and whether it was a tourist destination.

The number of taxis in Athens was going to be limited to 2.5 per 1,000 residents, while in the rest of Greece, it would have been two per 1,000. At the moment, there are four taxis per 1,000 Athenians. The Transport Ministry said that the current ratio is much higher than other European cities such as Rome, Berlin, Milan, Brussels and Stuttgart, where it ranges between 1.3 and 2.1 taxis per 1,000 residents.

However, Ragousis has opted for a plan that relies on demand, which has dropped significantly over the last year, regulating the number of taxis on the streets. His plan for complete liberalization was not well received by the cabbies.

?Governments must have continuity and trustworthiness,? said Efthimios Lyberopoulos, the head of the taxi drivers? union. ?If someone wants to create private monopolies then they should know that our sector and the government will be locked in a dance of death.?