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(LEAD) Bus strike looms larger over parliamentary taxi bill
SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- Bus drivers vowed Tuesday to begin a naitonwide strike later this week in protest against a bill that redefines taxis as a mode of mass transit and offers them compensation for losses.

   The debate over whether taxis are public transportation means heated up after a parliamentary committee last week unanimously passed the bill that effectively categorized taxis as a mode of mass transit.

   The bill has yet to be approved by a full parliamentary session.

   Expressing immediate opposition to the move, the association of the country's 17 bus operators decided to launch a strike on Thursday to block the passage of the bill.

   The bill, if adopted, will put cab companies and drivers under under semi-state management and allow them to be eligible for government compensation for losses, a long-running demand of the taxi industry.

   "There has not been a single public hearing on this issue, though we've expressed our position to the parliament and parties. This is nothing but an impromptu populist measure ahead of the presidential election," an official of the bus association said.

   "Both labor and management of the bus companies across the country have already agreed to halt operations in such a case. If the bill passes a floor vote on Friday, we will go on an indefinite strike," he added.

   A total of 48,000 buses run nationwide, with some 7,500 buses running on over 360 routes in Seoul alone carrying approximately 5 million passengers.

   In preparation of a possible strike, the land ministry said it is striving to come up with measures to minimize the impact on commuters, such as preparing extra taxis and subway services and extending their operation for an hour.

   The government has also reportedly been actively trying to persuade lawmakers not to pass the bill, claiming it needs more time to deal with the issue as the government has not secured any budget for the move.

   Putting cabbies under semi-state management, which currently applies to public transportation, will allow the government to determine taxi drivers' salaries and other operational details. In lieu, the drivers will be guaranteed a stable income and the companies will be compensated for losses, all of which would come from state coffers.

   The bus industry receives an annual 1.2 trillion won (US$1.1 billion) in various subsidies from central and local governments, and cab firms 760 billion won.