Italian taxi drivers back on strike

Almost a year after a wave of wildcat strikes, cab drivers in Italy struck again yesterday against liberalisation of the industry.

Submitted by Steven. on May 9, 2007 reported that Italian taxi drivers resumed strike action Tuesday to protest against government plans to deregulate the sector.

Taxi union officials said some 25,000 cabbies were taking part in the one-day stoppage which caused havoc as travelers left stranded at airports, stations and taxi ranks.

Although the strike involved all major Italian cities, the main focus was on Rome, which was hit by a spate of wildcat taxi-driver protests last July.

Cabbies from all over Italy converged on the capital to join a protest march through the city center.

Unions representing Italy's 40,000-strong fleet of taxi drivers said a deregulation bill currently before parliament would give rise to "ruthless competition" and "wipe out our sector."

The reforms to the public transport sector are contained in a liberalization bill drawn up by Italian Industry Minister Pierluigi Bersani which is expected to win parliamentary approval by the summer, according to the local media reports.

It has already drawn widespread protests from other categories, including fuel station operators.

According to official statistics, there are 2.1 taxis per thousand inhabitants in Rome and 1.6 in Milan compared to 8.3 in London and 9.9 in Barcelona.

The number of taxis operating in Rome is around 6,000 compared to more than 61,000 in London, almost 43,000 in New York and 17,000 in Paris.

Complaints from residents and tourists over the difficulties in finding taxis during peak hours and at night have shot up in recent years, with taxi drivers accused of deliberately restricting the number of cars available in order to safeguard their earnings.

But taxi unions have rejected such arguments, insisting there are more than enough taxis in circulation and blaming heavy traffic for any problems with services.

They say that deregulating the sector will drastically cut their earnings and make taxi services less safe.

Many drivers stress they have invested their entire savings in buying a license, a grey market in which the cost of a permit can reach as high as 200,000 euros with drivers selling on their licenses when they retire. Drivers fear the investment will be worthless if the sector is deregulated.