By The Nation
A campaign has been launched in Bangkok to promote a “go anywhere” taxi service. It is yet another shot at resolving a problem that has persisted despite numerous attempts to address it – cab drivers regularly refusing to accept passengers because their requested destination is somehow inconvenient. Few people are optimistic about the latest notion, knowing that fixing the problem will require combined multiple approaches.
Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of a taxi driver waving them off? The phenomenon of “baulking cabbies” is not even a Thailand-only issue, but also occurs in Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila and large Western cities, regardless of how tough the local transport regulations are, how frequent the crackdowns are, and how determined the passengers are to air their grievances.
The problem in Bangkok, however, is largely to do with the dense traffic. Most taxi drivers who refuse to accept passengers tell them the traffic where they want to go is too jammed up, according to what they just heard on their radio. The passenger can be as upset or angry as he wants to be, but the driver is simply being realistic – more time spent transporting a single customer means lost income, and his work is a race against time. With the majority of Thai cabbies leasing vehicles from investors and operating in shifts, time is crucial. For other motorists, getting stuck in traffic might mean missing a meeting or being late for a date, but for taxi drivers, it means missing out on significant income.
Now, Bangkok authorities and an association of taxi drivers have proposed affixing a sticker prominently to the vehicle’s window declaring that everyone will be accepted as a passenger. The first serious test will come when someone hails a cab in the suburbs hoping to be taken into the inner city, past disruptive construction routes and in heavy rain. If the promise of the sticker holds true, the taxi and passenger depart, and they then gets stuck in traffic, the meter – re-calibrated as part of this campaign – will boost the fare accordingly. In theory this is sound, but, as it is, there are many baulking cabbies who cannot be enticed even if extra payment is offered.
To be fair to the men (and women) behind the wheel, anyone who complains about Bangkok taxi service should remember that cabbies are always in good spirits and never turn away passengers during Songkran and other times when the city streets are relatively empty of traffic. This is to say they are not “notoriously bad” consistently, and there’s a direct correlation between their mood and willingness and the state of the traffic. Prospective passengers can fly into a fury with taxi drivers or try to understand their predicament. It’s frustrating to be spurned, especially when our financial or social wellbeing depends on getting to our destination, but the cabbies have the same considerations in their careers and lives.
We need to solve the traffic problem. Only then can we fairly assess the attitudes of individual cab drivers. Short-term efforts to make them more receptive and agreeable will be a flash in the pan. They have a living to make and they’re not paid well. Give them