In George Orwell's 1984, doublespeak was used to convey meanings that were often the direct opposite of what was really intended. And I was reminded of that doublespeak when I heard the government announce that it had approved the "reform" plan of Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh. Once upon a time, "reform" meant structural changes that would improve the welfare of the public, raise living standards of the taxpayer, increase competition, open markets, promote liberalization. But today, in the new "doublespeak era," when they say "reform", they mean the opposite.
After protracted pressure from the taxi drivers' organizations, it was decided to grant licenses to those that have been operating service routes for three years - without a license! This is clearly a prize for those that have up to now scoffed at the law. Even worse, the numbers of taxis that are licensed to operate multi-passenger services is to stay fixed until 2009. In other words, today's number is the maximum. But who said that it was the optimal? The Transportation Ministry says that its aim is "not to take the bread from the drivers' mouths." But what of the public's bread? The traveling public wants to see greater frequency of taxi services, and more taxis as the population grows, consumption rises and new areas spring up. So why limit the number to the present level?
Sneh's motivation should not be the welfare of the drivers but that of the general public. Only the general public is not an interest group. It does not demonstrate or yell and it has no standing committee. Whereas the taxi drivers are a pressure group designed to bend the minister's ears, especially when elections are looming.
And there is another clause in the "reform"; raising the price of the driver's green card. A few years back, the system of handing out the licenses was changed so that now with the better system, a price for the license was set and that price falls each year to encourage more taxis on the roads. But for as long as the value of the veteran drivers' green cards fell, they weren't happy. So they waited till Sneh got into office and convinced him to halt the process of falling prices till 2004, and while he's at it, to raise the price by NIS 13,000, to NIS 185,000. No doubt Sneh will soon receive the Badge of Honor of the veteran taxi drivers' association, for enriching its members by several thousand shekels. And what does the public think? When it steps out into the street and looks for a taxi nowhere to be found, maybe it will then realize what "reform" we are talking about.
And one more point. The agreement to the reform from the treasury heavyweights, including the finance minister himself. There was a time when you would have to cut off the hand of the treasury's economist before he would sign on such a "reform."
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