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Athens TAXI DRIVERS! Being taken for a ride?


TRAGIC, frustrating, humorous, surreal and occasionally (read: very, very rarely) moving, taxi tales abound in Athens the urban jungle. If the Athens News got all its readers to send in only one of their own, with attached complaints, we could put out a millennial 10,000-page taxi issue in which each page would be broken into at least three letters, poems and theses.

Those guys sure now how to irk us, to the extent, perhaps, that one begins to wonder whether they receive special training to do so. Irking School would probably hold auditions and long questionnaires, and once the driver was accepted, he or she would have to constantly report back with news of progress: "Today I got an old lady to swear in a way she would never dream and slam the door in a rage. Over." Two nodding dogs for you! There would be a great deal of masonic-style secrecy within the institution because irk-found progress, based on esoteric skills, would gradually lead to promotion, and then advancement to power, and power to stud taxi-driver prestige.

The Irking School may be fictional, but I can assure you that Taxi Therapy is not.

Certainly there are no regular meetings or special therapy centres, but what makes it even more prominent and widespread is the fact that it happens throughout the city, all the time. While you read the last sentence, around five million people asked for or received taxi therapy from friends, family, neighbours and colleagues, and researchers reveal that the end of it isn't in sight, as the graph line for pessimistic taxi thoughts and disquieting taxi feelings just keeps rising ominously.

It has been many a time that I have taken on the frightful vigilante role when dealing with cab drivers. Essential is the quality of unshakeable determination to see your fight through and not be taken for a ride. Sometimes I have done it by keeping my voice low and eerily cool whilst pouring in a good dose of legal blackmail that makes the driver voicelessly do things as he really should. Other times I have been in such a state of angry disbelief of the driver's nerve or ignorance for his own professional responsibilities that losing control didn't prove too difficult: but even in those cases I usually got my valid point across (or just "vented") and that seemed like a good start.

And then there are all the times in between when I was just too tired to fight for my rights, because I knew it was just a drop in the ocean, and drowning in a drop was just too pathetic a way to perish.

Amazingly, we have a great deal of rights that the grand majority is not aware of. Is the glass half empty or half full for you, because if it's half empty you also are prone to believing that Greece is half empty of protective citizenship laws. Sure, be a realist, but realise also that you do have rights and, regardless of the hassle and bureaucracy you'll have to go through in order to see them being implemented in your name, it can be done. Contrary to popular belief, most drivers know what those laws and regulations are, but they often have the last laugh because they also know that most people are ignorant of them.

However, it must also be said that in the numerous situations when I have confronted drivers about their illegal ways or have witnessed other cab-goers do the same, the cabbie has turned on the charm, the philosophical banter or the sympathy tune in order to get the callous client on his side, and it often works too. "Why should it bother you if I pick someone else up if your journey doesn't go off course? I have ten children and a parakeet to feed and the prices of petrol these days are unbelievable. How can you expect us to be as efficient and respectful as London drivers when we receive one-twentieth of the fare?" "Umm", you say, feeling particularly guilty about your seemingly inconsiderate, tight-wad, anal comments, "OK".

When speaking to the vice-president of the Athens Taxi Association, Lefteris Terzakis, I had to stop myself from laughing raucously. I had asked him how drivers are informed or educated about their professional responsibilities, their rights and the rights of the client.

His answer was that every two months they receive a newspaper at their home in which all this information is published. Can you mentally build the image of a driver boiling the kettle and settling in his comfy chair to eagerly read this very paper, suddenly see the light, and later discuss the new policies with other drivers, not to mention put them into practise?

We have all experienced the abuse of the regulation which says that a taxi driver must take you exactly where you please if he has the "Elefthero" (vacant) sign up. Kifissia's taxi mob was recently in the news because of this. Taxi drivers park their automobiles outside the train station there and smoke their cigarette, waiting to pick their customers. They will only take you if you are going exactly where they please, and usually this is somewhere in the vicinity.

They will often also make you wait in their cab as they try and find another customer for the same ride.

Someone finally spoke up and called a radio programme on Sky channel, hosted by journalist Manos Tsilimides, to make his complaint public. Tsilimides' show is of a vigilante nature, as whomever he takes calls from is given the thrill of consequently hearing him call up as many people in responsible positions as he can reach. In this case he rang up the mayor of Kifissia, Vassilis Varsos, and the president of the Athens Taxi Association, Thimios Limberis.

That one call from a listener and the radio host's ensuing actions led to a huge flow of other callers who had experienced the same injustice at the northern suburb's taxi rank. The florist who works in that area revealed to me that he witnessed the drivers listening to the show and discussing the issue "very seriously; some looked really concerned."

Listeners were encouraged to fight for their rights in relation to taxis. The next time my father purposely chose this very taxi rank for a trip to central Athens during rush-hour traffic, his request was rudely rejected. He got into the cab and insisted he be taken where he wanted. The driver argued. Until, that is, my father calmly replied that he would leave the car only when he received the driver's name, surname and licence-plate number, so that he could go to the police and sue him for 1360 euros, which is the fine he can receive for behaving this way. Needless to say, the cabbie got in, slammed the door and, mumbling angrily, took him where he wanted to go.

A story that inspires hope. Live your own. But first, study the laws.

Regulations that taxi drivers must adhere to:

* The taxi must be kept in a clean, orderly condition.

* The driver is not allowed to smoke, play music or open windows unless he asks for, and receives, the client's approval.

* The client too must ask for permission to smoke.

* When the driver has the Elefthero (literally "free") sign up at the front of the cab, he cannot refuse the client's request for going to any given place.

* The driver must have an A-Z road map in his taxi.

* The driver has no right to stop for other customers unless he has asked for, and received, the customer's permission.

* The driver has the right to refuse service to customers who display drunken or disorderly behaviour.

* The cab must have a working metre.

* The taxi metre should show the fare in euros.

* The driver is obliged to provide customers with a receipt upon request, and if he has no receipt-book available, he should write one up.

* Minimum fare is 2.65 euros

* Starting fare is one euro

* Any piece of luggage over 10 kilograms can be charged at maximum .32 euros

* Booking an appointment with a radio taxi costs 2.06 euros


See Also Athens Airport and George the Famous Taxi Driver

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