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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gypsy Cabs' Era Coming To a Close

Some may regret the romance but few will regret the risk and hassle if the city government replaces the huge industry of "gypsy cabs" that has been Moscow's only real taxi service for the last five years with something more organized.

For many visitors, the city's chaotic taxi system, or more accurately, the absence of any system, has long been one of the most striking examples of the confusion of post-Soviet Russia.

Intrepid entrepreneurs, driving a sad assortment of rattling, smoking Zhigulis, Ladas, Moskvichs and the occasional battered BMW, rushed to fill the gap in the transport market left by the collapse of the old state-run taxi parks in 1991.

In the transition period, this improvised taxi service of gypsy cabs has played a useful role. It met consumer demand and also provided employment for thousands of respectable Russians, who through economic necessity had no choice but to moonlight as drivers in their private cars.

But the profession of unlicensed taxi driver, like black market money-changers, was a product of temporary economic uncertainty. Now, as Russia returns to normality, it should play an ever smaller role.

The reasons why taxis are controlled all over the world are obvious. It is the only way to ensure that cars meet basic safety standards, and it gives commuters some assurance that they will not be robbed in the course of their trip. It also sets rates for fares, preventing gouging by drivers and the arguments over price that have been one of the more tedious features of travelling by cab in Moscow.

The city has more than enough traffic police to stamp out the pirate cabs, but it must take care in doing so -- not least because it would mean the loss of livelihood to thousands of struggling moonlighters.

A sudden ban on unlicensed cabs could also mean a lot of inconvenience for commuters, unless the city has first made sure that there is an adequate system of licensed cabs to fill the void.

The city has to make regular taxis a viable alternative to their unlicensed competitors. It has made a start: financing the creation of a fleet of licensed yellow cabs who offer taxi meters, better service and safer cars. It should also show its support for licensed taxis by creating more ranks in key locations.

But taxi reform must ensure that fares for licensed cabs are not kept artificially high. This means keeping licensing fees low enough and regulations flexible enough to encourage competition in the taxi market. Neither passengers nor gypsy cab drivers will then be able to object to a more rigorous application of licensing rules.