Canal boat firms fear chaos if Amsterdam liberalises licensing

Tourism on Amsterdam’s canals can be better regulated by allowing everyone to have a licence to transport passengers, if they meet very strict rules on safety, nuisance and the environment, according to a new report drawn up for the city council.

The city council has stopped issuing new licences because of the volume of traffic on the canals, leading to complaints that the big boat companies have a virtual monopoly and it is impossible for newcomers to enter the market.
In addition, there are a large number of illegal boat operators and little stimulus for the existing licence holders to clean up their act, officials say.
Big business
Last year, some three million tourists took a canal trip on one of 332 licensed boats. Most licences are in the hands of four big companies.
By liberalising the licencing system and getting much tougher on people who break the rules, research bureau SEO Economisch Onderzoek says more people would be able to set up canal-based companies and the problem of illegality would be tackled.
The Volkskrant points out that liberalising the Amsterdam taxi system in 2000 resulted in chaos and the after-effects are still being dealt with.
Felix Guttmann of the Canal Company told the paper a similar situation would develop on the water: ‘Everyone with a simple boat will be out there by the Damrak and Anne Frank house on sunny days, trying to pick up passengers’.
Last time licences were awarded in Amsterdam there were more than 1,000 requests for 75 places, the Volkskrant said.
But Barbara Baarsma of the research bureau says such fears are unfounded because meeting the tough new standards will require considerable investment.
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