Row over taxi bill renews bus strike threat

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Row over taxi bill renews bus strike threat

An association of bus companies warned that it may take buses off the road nationwide as soon as today if the National Assembly introduces a bill designating taxis as public transport.

The Association of Korea Bus Transport Companies yesterday convened an emergency meeting at its headquarters in southern Seoul and issued a statement protesting the Assembly’s plan to introduce a bill designating taxis as public transportation at a plenary session scheduled for today or tomorrow.

“If the National Assembly introduces the bill as scheduled, we will immediately suspend operations of all buses across the country,” the statement read.

“Both workers and management in the bus industry reached an agreement on Nov. 20 to do that.”

The companies struck for two hours in the early hours of Nov. 24 before the Assembly agreed to delay a vote on the bill. Prior to that, Korea had never had a nationwide bus strike.

A bus strike is expected to inconvenience the 15.06 million people who use buses every day.

Gang Se-un, an official at the association, told the Korea JoongAng Daily that express buses will strike but small shuttle buses will be excluded.

Currently, only buses, subways and trains are designated public transportation in Korea.

Bus companies receive about 1 trillion won ($932 million) in state subsidies a year.

Bus operators worry that if taxis are designated public transportation, they will have to share the subsidies with the cabbies. The law hasn’t stated how the government should support taxi drivers.

If taxis become public transportation, all taxi stops and garages will be designated as public facilities, which should be maintained using the government’s budget.

Taxi drivers will also be able to use bus-only lanes in the middle of the roads in some regions of Seoul, Gyeonggi and Gwangju.

Currently, the taxi industry receives about 760 billion won annually in support from the central and local governments for increasing oil prices and taxes.

Taxi drivers say they have suffered losses since 2004, when then-Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak started a new public transportation fare system in which passengers can pay discounted fares if they transfer between public transport vehicles. Kwon Do-youp, the minister of land, transport and maritime affairs, proposed a different law to taxi drivers that offered additional state subsidies without designating taxis as public transportation. But the drivers turned it down.

Yun Hak-bae, a manager at the Land Ministry’s comprehensive transportation policy department, told reporters yesterday that they failed to persuade taxi drivers to withdraw their demands for the new law.

“We couldn’t narrow the gap between taxi drivers and the government at all,” Yun said. “If taxis become public transportation, we will have to increase the number of taxis, which is already more than the demand, and lower their fares. Taxi drivers don’t understand the definition of public transportation at all.”

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr ]

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