TALLINN - Taxis in Tallinn will be forced to display their fares in both English and Estonian and negligent drivers will be slapped with hefty fines after new regulations go into effect this week. The dual language requirement is part of the Tallinn City Council's initiative to develop a transparent and honest pricing system in the city's fleet of taxis. Fed up with the taxi service's poor image, the council has also threatened drivers with fines of up to 12,000 kroons (766 euros) for disobeying regulations.
Andres Harjo, head of Tallinn's municipal transport office, said the changes were necessary to stop the practice of overcharging.
"It is about the image of Tallinn. If tourists can't understand Estonian, then the taxi driver has more opportunity to cheat," Harjo told The Baltic Times.
"Now the price list must be in Estonian and English so they know how much they should pay."
Taxis will also have to display a 24-hour phone line where passengers can lodge complaints if they feel they have been ripped off.
In addition, drivers must ensure that their taximeter and printer are in working order so that passengers can watch the meter and keep a receipt. If they are not functioning, passengers will have the right to refuse payment, Harjo said.
Indeed, taking a taxi in Tallinn is a lottery. Prices are set by each individual company, and vary greatly from cab to cab. Passengers must often barter between drivers to find the lowest price.
Both tourists and locals alike complain of being overcharged.
"I refuse to take taxis at all now, because I have been cheated so many times," one local Tallinner said.
"They don't care if you are a tourist or if you live here, they will try and make you pay more. I walk five kilometers home instead of taking a taxi if there are no busses."
Even Tallinn's mayor, Juri Ratas, has been a victim of overcharging. Ratas became an advocate for restructuring the taxi system after taking anonymous cab trips around the city, during which he discovered numerous discrepancies.
However, Harjo said there was only a limited amount the Tallinn City Council could do to regulate the taxi service.
Taxi drivers are not required to obtain a special license, making it difficult to impose sanctions.
"There are very few possibilities to take back the right to offer taxi services. We think there should be a rule that every taxi driver must carry a special license. That way, if they break the rules, we can revoke their license," Harjo said.
The power to introduce such a licensing system lies with the Ministry of Economy and Communications.
"We have asked the ministry to consider creating more regulations, but there is not much more we can do now," Harjo said.