Taxi drivers in Greece have been causing chaos at the peak of the summer tourist season, by staging a strike since Monday. The angry cabbies have blocked roads leading to the port of Piraeus and Athens International Airport, drawing criticism from officials who are worried about harming Greece’s vital tourism industry.
The Greek taxi drivers are protesting about the government’s plans to liberalise and lift restrictions on issuing taxi licenses.
Demetrios Kapelos, a taxi driver participating in the blockade said, “We’ve seen our earnings decline by more than 40% in the past year because of the recession and having more taxis on the streets will drive many of us out of business”.
One taxi driver describes his struggle to support his family because of the cost of running his cab. He explains that finding cheap taxi insurance is near impossible and the high cost of petrol prices doesn’t help any of the drivers either.
In the heart of the capital, traffic is at a standstill, with a fleet of taxis honking their horns to oppose the government plans. Drivers have also set a cab on fire outside the prefect’s office shouting “Thieves! Thieves!”.
Tourists visiting the country filled most of the trains this week on the metro lines to Piraeus and Athens International Airport. Shuttle buses to and from the airport were also arranged by airports to help the tourists.
Pavlos Geroulanos, Culture Minister said “The way they are protesting is very bad at a crucial moment for tourism because every Greek family, even the taxi drivers themselves, are making a living from tourism”.
16% of Greece’s GDP relies on their ancient monuments and beautiful islands. This year they are hoping for a 10% increase after tourism dropped by a fifth over the past 2 years due to the global downturn, violent anti-austerity protests and repeated strikes.
The new license fee of 3,000 Euros is a “huge blow for owners who paid 8,000 Euros for a licence just two years ago”, said a spokesman for the taxi-owners union.
If the government did not reverse the reforms, taxi drivers have threatened to prolong their protests.