Sun, Jan 16, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Prague mayor takes on city's rapacious cabbies

THE GUARDIAN , PRAGUE

When the mayor of Prague heard rumors of taxi drivers overcharging tourists for rides, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Pavel Bem donned a wig, a false beard and adopted the best English accent he could muster and set out on a covert operation that would put Inspector Clouseau to shame.

But the doughty mayor was unprepared for the shocking results of his detective work.

After climbing into a cab at the city's faux-medieval Old Town Square for a routine 3km trip across the river Vltava and up the cobbles to Prague Castle he was overcharged 500 percent.

The driver demanded 785 koruny, or just over ?20, for a ride which would set back a native a mere ?4.

When the mayor asked for a receipt, he received one which contained a fake name of the taxi firm, a fake telephone number, and did not include other mandatory data such as the length of the route and the fare.

"This is such a fundamental and flagrant violation of the rules that the driver deserves the most severe punishment," Bem told the Prague newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes, whose banner headline across the front page yesterday -- "Taxi Drivers Fleece Prague Mayor," sounded a salutary note for the hordes of German and British tourists.

That it was not the end of the story, however. On the way back, another cabbie charged Bem the proper fare of 134 koruny, but when the mayor wanted to pay in euros, upped it to 10 euros.

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