Archive for April 3, 2009

EU anti-fraud experts ripped off by a Bulgarian taxi driver

Experts from the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) became the latest victim of the unfair competition between Bulgarian taxi drivers, Bulgarian news agency Blitz said on April 3 2009.

Olaf experts arrived in Bulgaria to take part in a seminar on fighting fraud in the EU. They took a taxi from the airport to central Sofia and were presented with a bill for 102 leva (about 50 euro), Blitz said.

Suspecting that there was something odd about the bill, Olaf experts complained to their host in Bulgaria, the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which then did a check on the taxi company, OK Superchance.

The check showed that the bill was correct, and that the company had stated the price of 8.60 leva a kilometre.

By contrast, OK Supertrans, one of two companies contracted to service the airport, charges about 0.60 leva a kilometre.

The problem is that Sofia Airport is having a hard time curtailing the influx of taxicabs that prowl terminals, picking up eagerly departing passengers. Their logos stencilled on the car doors closely resemble that of OK Supertrans, as is the case with OK Superchance.

The fare is normally indicated on stickers on the lower right corner of the windscreen and the lower left corner of the rear door window. Often, new arrivals at the airport see the OK sign, which has been recommended to them by friends and family as reliable, and end up paying hundreds of leva for a distance that costs three and sometimes four times less.

It was because of this that the airport decided to contract companies to serve its two terminals. It also imposed a restriction on parking in front of terminals and on cars from other than the two selected taxi companies to wait outside the terminals.

The problem is that the airport management cannot do anything about taxi drivers who are simply passing by and pick up customers.

The other thing is that these highly priced taxicabs are licensed, have openly and officially declared fares and operate on legal grounds. The law sets no limit to how expensive taxi fares can be.

The OK Supertrans company which services the airport and has been on the market since 1993 has filed and won a number of court cases against companies mimicking its logo. The Commission for Protection of Competition has been imposing fines of hundreds of thousands of leva one after another, but as it seems from the Olaf experience, little has changed.

In October 2008, David Hammerstein, Spanish member of the European Parliament for the European Greens, was charged 105 leva by a taxi driver in Sofia for the distance between Sofia airport and the Government building in central Sofia.

“My first impression of the country was the 105 leva I was charged by the taxi driver and the dubious receipt I got at the end,” he told reporters. When Hammerstein asked Bulgaria’s Transport Minister Petar Moutafchiev about the issue, the response he got was that nothing could be done.