Taxi drivers cause havoc on busy Nicosia roads

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Taxi drivers cut off the bus lane at the entrance to the capital Nicosia on Monday morning, worsening a traffic bottleneck, as they demanded that authorities “start paying attention to the problems of the sector”.

Tens of demonstrating taxi drivers initiated their motor-march from the GSP Stadium and proceeded towards the Kalispera traffic lights. They made a brief stop, temporarily blocking the bus lane for a few minutes.

Parallel protests were also staged in Limassol, and at Larnaca and Paphos airports, with a two-hour strike.

Following their stop at Nicosia’s Kalispera lights, taxi drivers then proceeded towards the Presidential Palace via Athalassa Avenue, before they headed to the Transport Ministry, causing havoc to road traffic and infuriating other drivers stuck in their cars.

They drove in procession through busy avenues, including Demosthenes Severi and Griva Dhigeni, eventually heading towards the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works.

Taxi drivers are demanding clarifications on whether they are allowed to use the bus lanes, with the ministry saying that they would be allowed after Wednesday, October 4. Police were reportedly handing out fines on previous days.

The strike decision was taken on Sunday noon, with Transport Minister Alexis Vafeades responding immediately, clarifying that taxi drivers are allowed to use bus lanes.

However, the bus lane in question, is temporarily off limits for taxi drivers.

The Transport Ministry has recently set up the new bus lane to alleviate traffic at the capital’s entrance, allowing buses to bypass bottlenecks, but instructed taxi drivers to temporarily avoid using it due to safety concerns.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Cyprus Urban Taxis Association, said the strike decision was taken at an extraordinary meeting, as a first measure, after meetings and consultations with the relevant departments, during which “promises were made without solving the problems of the sector”.

Pirate cabs

Taxi drivers are also protesting ‘unfair competition’ from ‘pirate’ cabs, driven by people without a taxi license offering commuters cheaper rides through online applications, and also from Turkish Cypriot taxi drivers.

Furthermore, taxi drivers argue that the state has handed out €1.5 bln in grants and incentives to transport companies, while giving nothing to taxi drivers.

Responding to the taxi drivers, Minister Vafeades told Alpha TV that the ministry has already addressed the issue of the bus lane, noting that from Wednesday, taxi drivers would be allowed to use the bus lane at the entrance of the capital.

He argued that taxi drivers were told that the said bus lane would be temporarily off limits for them due to safety concerns.

“However, despite them being professional drivers and expected to set an example, the taxi drivers disregarded this request and police instruction, resulting in fines,” said Vafeades.

The minister further expressed his disappointment with the situation, pointing out that many of the demands made by the taxi drivers had already been met.

Vafeades added that efforts towards regulating other grievances were already underway and measures would be discussed in parliament in due course.

“A bill to regulate ‘pirate’ taxi drivers is currently with the legal service, as we speak,” he said.

The taxi drivers’ association on Monday called for the bill to be speeded up in parliament, noting that if their demands were not met they would take more drastic action in 15 days.