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Provincial meeting held to resolve Phuket’s taxi woes

In a bid to contain the island’s ongoing battles between local taxi cooperatives and the newer, app-based ride hailing services, representatives of both groups met with government officials yesterday. The meeting aimed to address issues stemming from the growing popularity of the taxi apps and the resulting competition.

This ‘competition’ has led to many violent confrontations, often in front of bemused passengers, as traditional taxi and tuk tuk driver defend their perceived ‘turf’.

The meeting also aimed to tackle the long-standing monopoly at prominent tourist spots on the island. Multiple governments, the army, senior police, various island mayors and provincial officials have tried, and failed, to break the island’s taxi cabal.

The meeting, held at the provincial office, was based around “solving problems arising from taxi operations in Phuket Province”. Chairing the meeting was the Phuket Vice Governor Anupap Rodkhwan Yodrambam.

During the meeting, a notable concern was raised regarding complaints against the Ratsada VIP Coral Tour group, which operates at Ratsada Pier. Taxi drivers were reminded that taxi services at Ratsada Pier fall under the authority of the pier management.

This clarification was reiterated following an incident a year ago when a cooperative taxi driver prevented a legally operating taxi app driver from picking up four tourists heading to Patong. The incident was subsequently deemed a “misunderstanding” by the police, with the co-op driver mistakenly believing they had exclusive rights to serve all passengers at the pier due to a concession with Seatran.

Even after a year these ‘misunderstandings’ at Ratsada Pier continue.

Indeed, around the island, hundreds of these incidents, many reported by frustrated tourists in social media, get immediate ‘concern’ from officials, then are forgotten – such is the power of Phuket’s taxi mafia bosses.

The meeting also heard grievances from metered taxi drivers who say they are struggling to compete with the cheaper fares offered by the taxi app drivers.

The taxi drivers maintained that their fares are legally regulated (a hilarious comment given that the dust has long gathered on 99% of Phuket’s taxi meters for decades!). The fares for the taxi app drivers are controlled and calculated by the phone apps so the passenger is aware of the fare before they accept the ride. But the metered taxi drivers say they’re being undercut by their app-based counterparts, “raising concerns for our livelihood”.

This “livelihood” is another furphy, given that the fares charged by Phuket taxis are, on average, 200 – 600 % higher than fares charged for similar distances or services in Bangkok.

For example, a trip from Suvarnabhumi to Sukhumvit in Bangkok, a trip of about 35 minutes, would cost between 200 – 250 baht. A similar journey from Phuket Airport to, say, Phuket Town, around 30 – 40 minutes, costs 700 – 800 baht. Even if the passenger insists on the taxi driver using their meter (good luck) the fares are still highly inflated when compared to the same taxi services in the capital.

Why?

Then there’s allegations of super-charged taxi meters which have been catalogued by passengers filming the fare meter swiftly clicking through the baht even whilst the taxi is sitting in traffic. Phuket’s taxi drivers have always denied that any changes are made to the actual meters.

Similar complaints were then made about the contract of green plate taxi drivers associated with the “Phuket Business Car Service Cooperative Limited” and the management of the Phuket Airport. These drivers have long enjoyed exclusive rights to serve passengers at the Phuket International Airport until Grab became the first taxi app to pick up passengers from September 1, among a few other smaller services.

Up to the start of September, the Phuket Airport, under threat from the airport taxis, made passengers drag their luggage 200 metres across the car park, or further in the case of the international terminal, to catch their Grab car ride outside the airport premises – an embarrassment for the island’s tourism officials.

Then the green plate taxi drivers filed a formal complaint whinging about competition from taxi app drivers, saying they were losing income.

At the launch of the Grab Taxi services at the airport, Phuket Airport General Manager Monchai Tanode confirmed that the concessions for co-op green-plate taxi drivers had expired in June. Currently there is a temporary four-month extensions set to expire at the end of October.

Bottomline, despite years of bullying and violence, Grab and Bolt operate in Phuket and offer cheaper fares than the traditional taxis and tuk tuks. This disparity in costs is something yesterday’s meeting failed to address and will continue to be an ongoing problem between the older taxis and their app-based peers.

The meeting, hopefully the first of many, is probably the island’s best chance to, once and for all, tackle the decades-long monopoly of the taxi cabals and bring fair pricing for passengers to Phuket.

We predict, however, that you shouldn’t hold your breath.

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