50% of Lebanese taxis deemed illegal
There is a high probability that the taxis many people take in the busy streets of Beirut and around the country are not really taxis. Whether someone gets in a taxi, a shared taxi [service] or a minivan to get around, the chances are that the driver could be relying on a forged license plate. According to Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, half of the country’s taxis are providing transportation services with fake registration papers and fake red license plates, which is designated for the “public” transportation sector, covering taxis, minivans, buses and some trucks.
“Around half of the country’s taxi drivers have forged license plates, and police are working to arrest the violators,” Charbel told The Daily Star.
Charbel said he hoped a new traffic law endorsed by Parliament this week would help regulate things, as it allowed the authorities to punish the violators with prison terms – but the validity of the entire legislative session remains in limbo, meaning the law has yet to officially take effect. According to Article 123, all public transportation drivers should have a special registration document issued by the Public Works and Transportation Ministry.
Logos bearing the name Public Works and Transportation Ministry were distributed to registered cab drivers last year, but these too are being forged, according to drivers in Beirut.
“They can forge anything,” said one taxi driver, complaining about the illegal competition. “This isn’t the first sticker introduced by the government – they are forging registrations ... license plates and documents.”
Charbel, who launched a monthlong security crackdown in June by installing additional ISF checkpoints, said the police were working to crack down on all traffic violations, including those in the transportation sector.
“No one knows the exact number, but according to our estimates, 50 percent of the taxi drivers, including minivans, have forged license plates and they will be imprisoned under the new traffic law,” said Charbel. “There have been a number of arrests already, and we are trying to fight this phenomenon as much as we can,” he added.
The ISF said Friday that police have detained 37 people, and seized 928 cars and 335 trucks since the start of the campaign in June. “Some of the arrests involve drivers who were found with forged taxi license plates,” said a senior ISF official who considers forged license plates a serious threat to the country’s security. “Most crimes and violations of the law in the country are committed by people who have forged license plates,” said the ISF official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to the media.
In the past several years, registered taxi drivers have repeatedly complained about the rising number of taxis on the streets. According to Law 384 of 1994, the number of taxis in the country should not exceed 33,000, the number of buses should not exceed 2,236 and the number of minivans should not exceed 4,000.
The reality on the ground, however, far outstrips these guidelines, according to Ali Houmani, from the Confederation of Taxi Driver Unions. “Today there are at least 60,000 taxis, 4,000 buses, and 20,000 minivans on the streets,” he said. “Forging a license plate for a taxi can cost just a few dollars ... for every registered taxi license plate, they’re making more than five license plates.”
Houmani blames the government for failing to crack down on the forged license plates, saying that Charbel has not yet established a promised special unit to stop the violators.
“Charbel was supposed to appoint an officer and a special police team based on the agreement reached between him and the Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi two months ago,” he said. In response, Charbel said that he has tasked officers to crack down on forged license plates, but indicated that it was difficult to keep pace.
“In many instances of cracking down on forged license plates, drivers are complying with the law for a few hours, and then they install new forged license plates a day later,” he said.
The minister added that the public transport confederations were responsible for keeping their vehicles up to date by installing the recently distributed logos on their cars.
“Most taxis still have the old logos,” Charbel complained. According to Garo Geukeuzian, the owner of a license plate shop in Beirut, forging license plates is a relatively simple process.
“One taxi driver might give out as many as 20 copies of his license plate,” Geukeuzian said. Geukeuzian, who has been in the same business for almost 40 years, says some customers try to ask him for illegal plates, but they leave the moment he asks them for the car’s registration documents. Meanwhile, anyone interested in purchasing a legal taxi license plate, according to Houmani, must resort to the black market. “The price goes up and down between LL28 million ($18,660)and LL35 million,” Houmani said.