Hundreds of self-employed taxi drivers converged on a major square in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri on Friday to protest against new licensing and taxation rules which they said could drive them out of business.
The protest came the day after traffic police fined several local drivers 50,000 drams ($120) each for not complying with the new requirements. Those include monthly payments of 16,000 drams for a service license as well as higher income taxes and social security payments.
The rules were enacted by the Armenian authorities several years ago. The authorities began enforcing them in earnest following the entry into force on June 2 of amendments to Armenia’s Code of Administrative Offenses that envisage much heftier penalties for their violation.
Honking horns, the drivers said they will not comply with the new taxation system, estimating that it would cost them at least 300,000 drams ($725) in extra payments to the state each year. The sum is more than twice higher than the average monthly wage in Armenia.
“We can’t pay a penny,” one angry cab driver told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “What we demand is that we continue working and supporting our families. They (the authorities) don’t support our families.”
“We are going to rise up,” said another man. “A revolution will start from us. They must leave us alone.”
There are an estimated 4,000-5,000 individually owned taxies in Gyumri and the surrounding Shirak province. Most of their owners eke out a modest living with fares typically ranging from 500 to 1,000 drams per ride.
Officials from the provincial administration visited the protesters but made no public statements afterwards. The drivers told them that they will continue demonstrating until the new fees are repealed.
There have been no reports yet of similar demonstrations in other parts of Armenia. Hundreds of cabbies protested for similar reasons in Yerevan in 2007 and 2008. The government made some concessions to them at the time.