Issue 5, 2018. October-November

   

Tbilisi Bets on New Rules for Safer Taxis

Several changes are underway to regulate the taxi market and provide better safety guarantees for passengers.

Nino Bakradze

Tbilisi City Hall has introduced several new rules and regulations for the city's myriad taxicabs.

The rules are being introduced in stages over the next year. The changes are intended to regulate the taxi market and provide better safety standards for passengers, Mamuka Mumladze, Head of the Municipal Transport Department at Tbilisi City Hall, told Investor.ge.

This year, taxi drivers are obligated to register and receive a permit from Tbilisi City Hall. The permit costs 100 lari, although drivers of hybrid vehicles receive a 50 percent discount and those with electric vehicles receive the permit free of charge.

Starting October 1, taxi drivers must display permits visibly on their vehicles, use a yellow "taxi" light, and maintain a clean vehicle.

Taxi drivers will face a 200-lari fine for driving without a permit and a 500-lari fine for failing to follow the new rules.

Important Step

Gela Kvashilava, Founder of the NGO "Partnership for Road Safety," told Investor.ge that regulations should make the taxi market work more effectively.

"Every highly developed city regulates the taxi market in some way. Passenger safety should be protected and service should be good. The main thing is that City Hall should concentrate more on the drivers' professionalism and passenger safety. If we want to develop the tourism industry, we need a good taxi service first," Kvashilava said.

The strictest regulations will start next year, in October, City Hall's Mumladze said.

"First we need to identify how many taxi drivers we have in Tbilisi. In a year, we will have new regulations, such as restrictions on right-hand drive vehicles as well as for cars with two doors. Taxi cars that are part of a fleet should be standardized, meaning the same color and taximeter," he said.

Mumladze hopes that emissions checks, which will begin in January 2019, will help ensure unsafe vehicles are not on the streets.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze has also announced that as of October 2019, all taxi cars will have to be white.

Beso Papiashvili, head of Taxify's Georgian office, notes that the new regulations will be slightly different for ride-sharing companies.

"Drivers who cooperate with us should have permits just as a regular taxi driver does. But companies like us, which provide ride-sharing services, are not obliged to have uniformly colored cars or have some identifying sign on the vehicles," he said.

More Regulations, Higher Costs?

Papiashvili added that the company agrees with the aim of the regulations: getting unsafe vehicles off the road.

He noted, however, that if there are fewer taxis operating, the cost of a taxi ride could increase.

Mumladze argued that the market should regulate the price for taxis, as well as the number of taxis operating on the city's streets.

He also noted that the city is betting on better public transport to decrease the need for taxi services.

"We plan to replace all old buses with new ones and to decrease the intervals between arriving metro trains by the end of 2019," Mumladze said.

According to offical information, the monies received from permit issuances are to be spent for public transport improvement.

The number of registered taxi drivers was not available at the time of publication.

Drivers' Concerns

While some other cities are watching Tbilisi's taxi regulation reforms to see what reforms they should implement-the city of Rustavi is already interested in passing similar rules-some taxi drivers worry about the impact of the changes on their livelihoods.

Khvicha Mchedlidze, a pensioner, works as a taxi driver to supplement his monthly income.

But now he is not sure how he will be able to continue working after the new restrictions on right-hand steering-wheel vehicles go into force next year.

"If I sell this car, the money will not be enough to buy the same type of car with a left-hand steering wheel. I will not be able to afford buying a new car and my pension is not enough to live on it. I do not know what to do in the future," he told Investor.ge.

"Regulating the market is necessary, but living standards have to be higher when you make such decisions," Mchedlidze noted.

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