Livelihood of taxi drivers
Fundamental measures needed to prevent strike
The first nationwide strike by taxi drivers ended without much confusion Wednesday although more than 220,000 of the country’s 255,000 licensed cabbies took part in the one-day strike.
Commuters in Seoul and its surrounding metropolitan areas had little problem as many of them gave up using taxis and went to subways and other public transportation means. But patients and foreign travelers who were not aware of the strike experienced a lot of problems. Ironically enough, some motorists who drive their own cars for commuting welcomed the strike as they experienced less traffic congestion than usual.
More than 30,000 drivers gathered at Seoul Plaza at 1 p.m. to stage a rally. They demanded that President Lee Myung-bak keep his campaign pledge to recognize taxis as public transportation and called for lower LPG prices and higher taxi fares. The cabbies, obliged to run their vehicles on LPG, also demanded they be allowed to use other fuels such as diesel while asking the government to reduce the number of taxi licenses and compensate drivers who choose to leave the industry.
Given that taxi fares have been frozen over the last three years and the worsening livelihood of taxi drivers, the government should come up with fundamental measures in the wake of the strike, which had been encouraged by operators of taxi companies.
The country’s taxi industry is reportedly teetering on the brink of death with passengers declining while costs soaring. In particular, drivers affiliated with taxi companies are struggling with falling income. Unofficial statistics put the average income of taxi drivers at about 1.2 million won a month. In extreme cases, there are drivers who earn as little as 500,000 won a month after paying fees they have to turn over to taxi companies. Assuming that 250,000 cabbies run a four-member family, nearly one million people live on the proceeds from taxi operations, raising the need for the government to be more active in solving this matter.
What troubles taxi drivers most is that they will have to pay more to taxi companies if the government allows an increase in fares. For this reason, some drivers were opposed to the strike, saying the fare increase will only benefit the owners of taxi companies.
The government should take their collective action serious in consideration of its policy failure and drivers’ warning that they will hold another large-scale rally in October and stage an open-ended strike in December unless their demands are met. Critics rap the government for short-sighted taxi policy, noting that its rash approval of taxi licenses led to a supply glut.
We feel it difficult for the government to accept their request to designate taxis as public transportation so that they could receive state subsidies, but the government needs to show flexibility on other demands. For example, the government and taxi companies will be able to share the financial burden arising from the reduction of 50,000 taxies as the taxi industry requests.