Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Prime Minister George Papandreou made his first public attempt on Thursday to diffuse the government’s dispute with taxi drivers, which is threatening to become an embarrassing distraction for PASOK. Speaking to MPs from his ruling party, Papandreou said the government was committed to opening up so-called closed professions but that it would listen to what those affected by the changes have to say. “The liberalization of the closed professions will happen with rules and dialogue,” he said. He added that the government was prepared to listen to any suggestions the cabbies may have. This was a much more conciliatory line than the one taken by Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis in recent weeks. Ragousis announced a total liberalization of taxis just weeks after his predecessor, Dimitris Reppas, had announced a deregulation plan that would have placed a limit on the number of taxi licenses that would be issued. Ragousis has since held fruitless talks with the cabbies, who have protested by closing access to roads, ports and airports. On Thursday, about 2,000 taxi drivers demonstrated at the port of Piraeus, preventing coaches carrying cruise passengers from leaving for tours of Athens. Some drivers also threw oil on the road in what they said was an attempt to ensure that they were not pursued by motorcycle-riding policemen. Since cabbies started their protests almost two weeks ago, more than 5,500 have been charged with offenses by authorities. Papandreou called on taxi drivers to tone down their protests and suggested that New Democracy was encouraging them to cause as much trouble as possible for the government. Government spokesman Ilias Mossialos later referred to Thymios Liberopoulos, the head of the taxi drivers’ union (SATA), as a “close associate” of ND leader Antonis Samaras. Liberopoulos wrote to Papandreou asking for a meeting with him but will instead have to settle for talks with Ragousis.
It will cost passengers more to ride the state ferry starting in the summer. That’s when fares for most Alaska Marine Highway will increase by 4.5 percent.Download AudioAccording to the Department of Transportation, tickets booked after the first of the year for travel after May first will reflect the new rates. Tickets booked before the New Year will fall under the current rates.The new fare structure is spurred by the recommendations of a recent rate analysis. The Marine Transportation Advisory Board saw the preliminary recommendations of that report during a recent meeting in Ketchikan. DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the department was planning to raise fares even before the recommendation.“The department knew its rates were out of balance and by increasing most fares by four-and-a-half percent that was consistent with a lot of other recommendations that were coming through the department as a way to help increase revenues to offset operating costs. So the department would likely move ahead with this rate increase regardless,” Woodrow said. “So by announcing it now, we’re giving the general public the most amount of time possible to prepare for that increase.”The analysis was conducted by Northern Economics. It recommends the Marine Highway System set rates so that they to cover between 39 to 65 percent of operating expenses. Revenues currently cover less than one-third of the operating budget, according to the department.Woodrow says the complete rate study will be released to the legislature in February. More changes in operating costs may come after that.“The rate increase that was just announced was one of the first preliminary recommendations from that report,” Woodrow said. “The study is not complete yet so we’ve not released the first report. We’ll do that when we release the full report to the legislature this upcoming session.”The analysis suggests that rates more than 25 percent above average not change. Woodrow says that means about 30 fares within the system will remain unchanged, including the route between Skagway and Haines, the highest per mile rate in Southeast.