Taxi owners have called a 24-hour 'warning strike' on Thursday, responding to a bill on the opening of their until now closed-shop profession that was unveiled in and approved by the Cabinet a day earlier.
The strike will run from 5:00 a.m. Thursday to 5:00 a.m. Friday.
Taxi owners' unions will hold a General Assembly in central Athens on Thursday to discuss the new status quo that will arise from the provisions of the bill and to take decisions on further action.
The strike initially affects Athens and Thessaloniki, but local taxi owners' unions from other parts of the country are also expected to state participation in the action.
The bill, unveiled during Tuesday's Cabinet meeting by transport minister Yiannis Ragoussis, provides for a return to exclusive state authority of the issue of taxi permits, the introduction of special 9-seat taxis and motorcycle-taxis, a hefty fee for acquiring a new taxi licence, and a reduction of taxi fares by 10-20 percent.
More specifically, the issue of a taxi Services Provision Permit returns to the state and may be issued only by the state for a fee of 15,000-40,000 euros, and a similar permit for motorcycle-taxis will cost 5,000-10,000 euros, although these will be put to deliberation. A supplementary fee will be paid for the acquisition of additional vehicles beyond the first taxicab.
The permit will have to be renewed every three years, and is not transferrable, in an effort to curtail the black market in permits, a measure that is expected to have a fiscal benefit for Greece running in the hundreds of millions of euros.
A new 'special charter' market will be introduced for taxis of up to 9-seat capacity with reservations by telephone and Internet and prohibition of searching for passengers on the streets, while the fare will be negotiated between the driver and the customer. Motorcycle taxis will be included in this category.
New taxicabs and special charter cabs must be of new anti-polluting technology and obligatorily provide access to the Internet and television, will have large illuminated signs and different-color band on the chassis from normal taxis so that they may be easily recognisable on the street.
Drivers and the legally responsible officials of the taxi service companies must attend, and have certification of, orientation seminars that include hotel-level English.
Some 28,000 operate legally today throughout Greece, 15,000 of which in Attica prefecture. Over the past decade it is estimated that 35,000 taxi permits have been transferred (privately from owner to owner) at prices ranging from 70,000 to 200,000 euros.
The draft law makes no provision for population criteria for the number of total permits per area, which is one of the fundamental demands of the taxi owners and had been contained in the provisions of the Presidential Decree that had been agreed between the owners and preceding transport minister Dimitris Reppas.
Ragoussis said on Thursday that the bill will be tabled in parliament in about a month, after being put to the Cabinet for approval in a second reading.
He also clarified that the Services Provision permit is unrelated with the vehicle's circulation licence, and that current holders of taxi permits will have three years to decide what they will do, namely if they will join a taxi services company.
The minister further said that tax audits will be made on older transfers of permits, warning that fines will be imposed on those who sold taxis (permits), collected the money from the sale but did not declare them (to the tax bureau).