THE AUTHORITIES are finally beginning to clamp down on the huge growth of illegal pirate taxis in Andalucia.
Olive Press sources claim that hundreds of illegal drivers are touting their services from bus and train stations and at the airports around the region.
They are also prowling the streets late at night to pick up fares from drunken tourists.
Many are even brazenly offering their services via Facebook pages and round-robin emails, as well as down most local pubs and bars.
“There has definitely been an increase in illegal taxiing, especially this summer,” Malaga lawyer Jose Luis Ortega Gaspar told the Olive Press.
“It has led the authorities to work hard on a new crackdown. But more needs to be done.”
He explained that drivers are being fined €4,000 if caught, with the fines rising if caught again. Their cars are usually impounded until it is paid.
“Many don’t know that the punishment for having an accident while operating an illegal taxi can be between eight to 15 years.”
Some 43 illegal pirate taxis have been pulled over and fined at Malaga airport alone over the last two years.
However, this figure is a drop in the ocean, with one reporter from the Olive Press being approached by THREE separate pirate taxi drivers as he left Malaga airport last Sunday.
Another expat (see pullout) estimated that dozens of illegal airport runs are being undertaken every week in summer from Estepona alone.
One long-time expat, based near Ronda, has been undertaking illegal airport runs for years, while another is in constant demand, near Antequera.
This month an illegal driver was arrested in Sevilla after continually ferrying British tourists to and from the airport for €100 a time.
Over 20 pirate taxis have been picked up in Sevilla and the same number in Jerez recently.
“But there are hundreds more, maybe even thousands,” explained the owner of a reputable transport company, based on the Costa del Sol.
“These people are flaunting the law, not paying taxes and, above all, putting lives at risk.”
The businessman, who asked not to be named, has seen his fleet of over two dozen vehicles come to a near standstill this month as the pirates come out into force.
“Whether it’s a guy in the local bar or an estate agent, they may be lovely people but the fact is without a licence they are pirate taxis,” he said.
“If an accident happens the passengers will be left without insurance, while the driver, vehicle owner and person responsible for booking the service will also face legal consequences.”
He also warned about so-called ‘courtesy services’ which may seem legal on the surface.
“They try to justify their transfers by calling them ‘courtesy services’,” he warns, “This happens a lot with holiday rental companies.
“But EU law states that if a service is charged directly or the price is hidden within a package it must be provided by a public service vehicle. That means there is no way a property management company can collect passengers going to or from the airport.”
Marbella town hall, at least, is taking specific steps to remedy the problem by holding a specific course for its police to help identify the culprits.
The course run by the International Police Association, was held this month after the town hall received hundreds of complaints from licensed taxi drivers.
Former Mayor Jose Bernal said of the training: “We want to guarantee the safety of citizens and protect the taxi sector.”
One pub manager in Estepona told the Olive Press he knows ‘at least seven or eight locals who do regular airport runs’.
“They are getting plenty of work in the summer, at least once a week, and maybe two or three times a month off season,” he said.
While not declaring the money, most are charging, intriguingly only 15 to 20 euros less than a legitimate taxi, whose driver must pay tax, maintain his car in perfect condition and pay for his annual licence.