Traffic chaos and violence as Italian taxi protest rumbles on

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Traffic chaos and violence as Italian taxi protest rumbles on
Protesters clash with police outside the Democratic Party headquarters on Tuesday. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Hundreds of taxi drivers protested in Rome on Tuesday as a strike over delays to Italian legislation regulating Uber and car-hire services entered its sixth day.


Commuters have been stranded in several cities across the country, with taxis from Rome to Milan, Turin and Naples taking only emergency fares for disabled people or those needing to get to hospitals.

Traffic blocks and violence

In central Rome, Via del Corso and Via del Titone were both blocked by the demonstrators on Tuesday afternoon, with Piazza Venezia reopened after a morning closure. Many of the bus and tram lines in the historical centre were diverted or running late.

The protests turned violent, with a group of street vendors and taxi drivers charged by police for throwing objects including glass bottles at police and overturning tables and chairs at local businesses. Some of the protesters threw eggs at the Democratic Party headquarters and at Uber and car-hire drivers.

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Drivers from all over Italy joined the Rome protest, with an estimated 30 percent of the Florentine taxi fleet in the capital, while spontaneous strikes were held in other major cities.

In Milan, a road block by around 500 taxi drivers caused traffic jams and the diversion of bus and tram lines on Monday evening, while traffic blocks from the white car drivers also caused trouble in Naples and Turin.

Transport strike on Wednesday

The chaos comes a day before a four-hour public transport strike planned for Wednesday in the Italian capital.

Between 8:30am and 12:30, "bus, tram, underground and railway routes (Rome-Lido, Termini-Centocelle and Rome-Civita Castellana-Viterbo) will not be guaranteed," said a statement from Atac, the company responsible for the capital's public transport. Atac added that even in the stations which remained open, there may be disturbances to services including ticket machines, escalators and lifts.

The effects of the strike will be exacerbated if the taxi drivers' protests continue for a seventh consecutive day, and that will depend on a meeting between trade union representatives and Transport Minister Graziano Delrio on Tuesday afternoon.

Delrio has said he is prepared to work with the taxi drivers "only if there is no violence and threats".

'Uber' benefits

The row is over the government's decision to suspend until the end of 2017 the introduction of norms to control car-hire and car-share services.

Drivers say the current rules benefit ride-hailing service Uber or NCCs - cars rented with a driver - because unlike taxis they can purchase licenses in smaller towns, where they cost less, but use them to work in cities.

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

"A taxi license in Rome is worth 150,000 euros ($158,000), but the NCC pays ten times less elsewhere," said Gabriele, 52, who has been a taxi driver since 2011 and did not want to give his surname.

His colleague, Antonio Moratti, 58, gave as an example a village in Calabria in southern Italy which he said had sold some 200 licenses to drivers who went to work in cities - though the town was only authorised to issue two licenses.

Taxi drivers are also furious that they have to work under fixed tariffs while Uber and the NCCs can charge as much as they like.

The government postponed the bill to regulate the car-hire services because it wanted more time to investigate the issue, amid protests that the region should have the power to regulate the industry.

Italian Consumer Association Federconsumatori called for a quick resolution of the strike, which has reportedly lead to scuffles between taxi and NCC drivers and threats against those who want to return to work.

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi said she supported the taxi drivers, calling for a "stop to reforms imposed from above which add to city management problems".

"The taxi service must be regulated in a clear way. It can be improved, certainly, but they don't like reforms from above which will certainly complicate the whole system," said Raggi.

But she urged drivers to find a way to return to work, saying "the taxi drivers are a calling card for tourists and foreigners" stranded at airports, stations and hotels.

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