Karen Eldbjørg Toven, age 50, doesn’t have a license to drive a taxi in Norway. She nonetheless is taking over as director of Norges Taxiforbund (Norway’s Taxi Federation) and her mandate is clear: To rebuild confidence in a business suffering from a bad reputation.
There was a time when taking a taxi in Norway was an enjoyable experience. That was before taxi rates skyrocketed, before drivers became surly and regularly broke speed limits and other traffic laws, and long before hundreds of taxi drivers were caught cheating on their taxes.
Now Toven is charged with shining up the poor image of taxi drivers in Norway. She needs to weed out the tax cheats, de-politicize a business now dominated by drivers who have started organizing protest demonstrations, and get them all to simply treat customers better.
“I have never driven a taxi and don’t have a chauffer’s license,” she told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently. “My only experience with the business is as a normal customer.”
That may be distinct advantage. It’s the customers who have suffered in recent years, and who need to start taking taxis again if all the new hordes of cars and drivers are to survive.
Toven, a former journalist for news bureau NTB who moved on to the information and public relations sector, takes over May 1 as head of the federation that represents around 5,000 taxi drivers nationwide. Her predecessor held the job for 18 years. It was time, say federation members, for a change.
The business was badly bruised after 372 taxi drivers were charged with tax evasion following a state audit in 2003. Tax authorities claim they defrauded the state treasury of NOK 625 million. Around 75 percent of the drivers charged are Pakistani-Norwegians. Around 1,000 Muslim drivers, meanwhile, parked their cars last winter and refused to drive, to protest publication of caricatures they found offensive.
“We wanted to get a director who could think new,” said the chairman of the drivers’ federation, Tor Johannessen.
Toven told DN that she’s always been interested and engaged in the community. “This is a challenge, and it will be be fun,” she told DN. “I look forward to help reshape the business.”