Published : 2013-01-23 20:12
Updated : 2013-01-23 20:12
The ruling Saenuri Party was grossly misguided in its claims Tuesday that President Lee Myung-bak ignored the authority of the National Assembly when he rejected the bill it had passed in support of taxi operators. The main opposition Democratic United Party was equally ill-advised when it denounced the president for vetoing the controversial bill.
The president was exercising his constitutional right to return the bill with his objections to the legislature for reconsideration. Moreover, his objections were anchored in sound judgment.
At the core of the controversy is the question regarding whether taxis are a means of public transport deserving government subsidies. Public transport is widely defined as a shared passenger transport service that is available for use by the general public. As such, it operates with specific routes and timetables. Taxi service does not belong to this category, and its share of passenger transport is below 10 percent, compared with 31 percent for buses and 23 percent for subways and trains.
It is inconceivable that the ruling and opposition parties had no knowledge about what constitutes public transport when they passed the taxi bill through the National Assembly earlier this month, authorizing 1.9 trillion won in annual subsidies to taxi operators. Instead, they did so as they succumbed to lobbying by the taxi industry when they had agreed to subsidize its service ahead of the Dec. 19 presidential election.
This is not to deny that many taxi drivers are underpaid and that their working conditions are unenviable. But this problem results from the operation of more taxis than are demanded. The Korea Transportation Institute says that the optimal number of taxis is exceeded by 50,000. If the estimate is correct, the question now is how to put the number of surplus taxis out of service. The Lee administration promises to write a substitute bill designed to support companies decommissioning some of the taxis they are operating.
True, the ruling and opposition parties are capable of overriding the presidential veto with the vote of two-thirds or more of 300 members of the National Assembly, given that 222 members approved the bill when it was put to a vote. The opposition party vows to revive the bill with support from the ruling party.
But a more sensible solution would be for the rival parties to scrap the populist bill and start a debate on the proposal to reduce the number of taxis in service when the administration submits a substitute bill to the National Assembly in the near future, as it has promised.