Taxi ruling could take years

Taxi ruling could take years

Case centers on firm charging three times the recommended rate

A long-running dispute over higher taxi fares has gone to the courts, but it could take up to two years before a verdict is delivered.

The case centers around a taxi company charging three times the regulated maximum fare of 28 Kč ($1.60) per kilometer.

Taxi firm AAA Taxi s.r.o., which was registered in January, bears a name remarkably similar to the more familiar AAA Radiotaxi Praha, which has operated for 18 years and charges the regulated fare.

AAA Radiotaxi Praha has filed a lawsuit to get the city authorities to enforce the maximum limit. However, the bureaucracy has proved a stumbling block.

“I don’t expect a result from the lawsuit for at least two years,” said Jiří Kvasnička, executive director of AAA Radiotaxi Praha. “There hasn’t been a single hearing yet. This is the problem with the justice system in this country: Things take too long.”

The head of the new AAA Taxi company, Pavel Jelínek, defended his company’s right to charge three times the recommended rate. The price limit set by the city is too low, he said, and he hopes the court will take this into consideration.

“It is impossible to charge just 28 Kč – that can’t even cover car repairs or [the cost of] putting taxi signs on the vehicles.” As his drivers are no longer allowed to wait at any stands or at the airport, he said they have fewer opportunities to get clients and therefore need to charge more.

Cab drivers for AAA Taxi seek customers around Old Town Square, Prague Castle and in busy places like in front of Slovanský dům after night screenings of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

“This is our biggest problem right now,” said Tomio Okamura, spokesman for the Association of Travel Agencies in the Czech Republic. “AAA Radiotaxi is recommended in many travel guides for Prague as a company that is reliable and doesn’t overcharge. And now these overpriced taxis have a similar name and confuse tourists.” The agency receives three to five complaints daily from tourists who say they have been overcharged by Prague taxi drivers.

Jelínek disputed this. “I don’t know why Okamura is putting his nose into this. He should take care of travel agencies that are going bankrupt,” Jelínek said. “It’s the media that confuse everyone; they always refer to Radiotaxi as AAA Taxi and name it as the biggest taxi company in Prague.”

Jelínek admitted name recognition was the reason behind registering the company under its present title but denied the intent to confuse tourists.

City Hall said it is doing its best to get the 90 Kč taxis off the streets.

“Right now, they don’t even have a single official stand in Prague,” said City Hall spokesman Jíří Wolf.

“The only one they had was on Old Town Square, and that was transformed into a parking space three weeks ago,” Wolf said. “There are thousands of cab drivers who respect the limit of 28 Kč per kilometer, and then these few who triple fares put Prague cab drivers in a bad light.”

Fines are not having much impact either. “All we can do is to fine them; they pay some of those fines, but, still, to this day, AAA Taxi owes the city 140 million Kč,” Wolf said.

He added that, in order to charge the extortionate rates, the cab drivers take only foreign clients. “If a Czech person comes to the car, they will refuse to give them a ride.”

Jelínek denied this. “If the regulation were 45 Kč, we wouldn’t have a reason to ignore the city’s orders.” Jelínek was adamant they are not scamming anyone. “We list the price on our doors, so, if someone gets into the car, it is logical to assume that they agree with the price.”

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