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Thu, Dec 13, 2001 - Page 2 News List

KMT legislators want tax break for taxi drivers

GRIDLOCK Though some lawmakers say taxi drivers deserve a break on the fuel tax, opponents argue that an exemption would hurt public spending on roads

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nation's taxi drivers should be exempt from paying the motor vehicle fuel tax to help them cope with falling revenue, KMT lawmakers said yesterday.

To push forward the proposal, KMT legislators yesterday boycotted next year's budget for the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

Lawmakers said the provision should be included in the ministry's budget to help taxi drivers at a time when the economic downturn has taken a bite out of cab fares.

"The livelihood of many cab drivers is being threatened by the economic slowdown," KMT legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) said.

Colleague Chen Ken-te (陳根德) said mass transit has also hurt the incomes of taxi drivers. "The government should think about how to help drivers, who have contributed to the country's public transportation," Chen said.

But the ministry is reluctant to consider any break for cab drivers. Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), minister of transportation and communications, said the revenue from the fuel tax was need for public infrastructure projects.

"The revenue from the fuel tax is used to maintain freeways and roads across the country. The exemption would significantly impact the work," Yeh said.

Proponents say exemptions that cover public transportation vehicles such as buses should be broadened to include taxis.

But Yeh drew a distinction between cabs that serve a few customers and buses that serve many.

"Taxis don't take regular and fixed routes. Cabs are not defined as part of the public transportation, according to related regulations," she said.

As a whole, taxi drives will pay an estimated NT$1 billion in fuel tax next year.

Yeh noted that cab rates were raised recently -- a move to take into account a drop in passenger fares.

DPP lawmaker Chung Ching-kiang (鍾金江) also argued that an exemption would harm public infrastructure.

"The residents of this country would suffer consequences such as bumpy roads if legislators were to insist on this unreasonable exemption," Chung said.

Tim Lin (林志明), director-general of the ministry's transportation and tourism department, said that while the government has managed to build more roads each year, the fuel tax hasn't been raised since 1983.

"The ministry is already suffering from insufficient funds for road maintenance," Lin said.

The ministry's revenue next year is estimated at NT$64.81 billion. Of its NT$21.68 billion in fee revenue, NT$21.6 billion comes from the fuel tax.

According to Lin, cab drivers shell out between NT$9,600 and NT$12,300 in fuel tax yearly.

Though hundreds of taxi drivers parked their cabs in front of the Executive Yuan last month to demand an exemption, the government did not give in.

But not all drivers think an exemption would help.

"The major crisis facing drivers is too much competition due to the large number of cabs," said Chien Ho-tsung (簡河宗), a driver from Taipei County.

If taxis were to become exempted, they would join a class of vehicles that include automobiles belonging to the army, police and the fire brigade. Cars for diplomats also qualify, as do mail delivery and garbage trucks.

In addition, vehicles serving the public transportation system -- such as buses -- are also eligible.

The fuel tax rate is based on several criteria, including mileage, the car engine's fuel economy and the grade of fuel used.

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