Monday 18th April 2005 Prague’s ‘Infamous’ Taxi Drivers Head for Darlington Visitors to Darlington Town Centre are wondering what to expect, since a local taxi firm announced its intention to import some of Europe’s most notorious taxi drivers – from Prague. With their reputation for violence, extortionate fares and purporting not to know the way to the city centre, Prague’s taxi drivers have long been one of the less attractive features of the Czech capital.
Now, though, the fearsome cabbies may be about to meet their match by swapping post-communist Prague for post-closing time Britain. Station Taxis, a cab firm in Darlington, Co Durham, is hiring a group of Prague taxi drivers for its round-the-clock service. Drivers more used to ferrying people towards Wenceslas Square will now head for Darlington town centre and the colourful bars of the Bigg Market in Newcastle. Station Taxis has set up a training school in Prague, where drivers are checked to see if they have a criminal background, how well they speak English and – most important – whether they can keep an even temper.
Andy Watson, who runs Station Taxis, said that he turned to Prague because of a shortage of local drivers, taking advantage of cheap flights to the Czech capital and new laws, which came into force after the Czech Republic was given EU membership last year, allowing east Europeans to work in Britain. The drivers can earn up to £350 a week for 50 hours’ work – the equivalent of a month’s salary at home.
Among the new recruits about to leave for Darlington is Ivan Krausko, 53, a former Czech army officer who has struggled to find work for the past two and a half years because of Czechoslovakia’s high unemployment rates. Asked how he would cope with rowdy Britons late on Friday nights, he shrugged. “I have more than 20 years in the army, so nothing is new for me,” he said. “I have a lot of experience with this.”
The poor reputation of Mr Krausko’s colleagues dates back to communist days, when many were said to be agents of Czechoslovakia’s STB secret service, paid to keep tabs on customers’ backseat conversations. Most are said to overcharge ruthlessly, even deploying their STB skills on customers who query their bills. In one scandal, drivers wired electrodes to passenger seats so that fares who argued the toss could be answered with a sharp shock. Earlier this year, the mayor of Prague, Pavel Bem, vowed a crackdown after posing as a tourist and being ripped off. In response, he received letters with such warnings as “We’re watching you!”, signed “Taxis”.
Source: Daily Telegraph