Hundreds of angry taxi drivers blocked the main squares of Yerevan and Gyumri with their cars on Monday in protest against new taxation rules introduced by the Armenian government.
Under the those rules effective from March 1, the self-employed cab drivers across Armenia will have to pay a fixed monthly fee of at least 8,000 drams ($17) and install new meters used for calculating other taxes.
The protesting drivers claim that the extra taxes are exorbitant and, if enforced by the government, will drive them out of business. They also say that they cannot afford the meters worth between 60,000 and 120,000 drams apiece.
More than 100 taxis converged on Yerevan’s central Republic Square as their owners demanded that the government abolish the controversial measure. Senior police officers tried in vain to convince them to reopen the sprawling square to traffic.
“They are making everything more expensive and strangling the people,” one driver told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We already had a hard time supporting our families.”
The protesters agreed to disperse only after Artur Arakelian, a deputy minister of transport and communications, visited them and listened to their demands. “In no other country can a person work as a taxi driver and not pay any taxes,” Arakelian told them. He said the new rules are also necessary for road safety.
The drivers were unconvinced. Several of their representatives then discussed the matter with Arakelian in greater detail inside the nearby Transport and Communications Ministry building. The hour-long meeting yielded no results.
“Our demands have not been fulfilled,” said one of them. “We will keep protesting until this issue is solved. We’re not saying that we don’t want to pay any taxes.”
Hundreds of other taxi drivers staged a similar protest in Gyumri. More than 40 of them were received there by another deputy transport minister, Aram Aslanian.
“What are you giving us to demand something in return?” one protester told Aslanian during the tense meeting held inside the Gyumri municipality. “Let us continue to work and earn a living,” said another driver.
Aslanian promised only to convey their demands to the government. For his part, Felix Tsolakian, the governor of Armenia’s Shirak province also present at the meeting, assured the drivers that they will not be fined for not complying with the new rules for the time being.