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Phuket Opinion: Avoiding grief in breaking Phuket's taxi mafia

PHUKET: The recent crackdown on ride-sharing apps Uber and GrabCar should be a welcome sign for customers and supporters of these services here in Phuket. There are countless international examples of such companies successfully disrupting the entrenched interests of existing taxi services and the growing pains that accompany the process.

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The Phuket News

Sunday 19 March 2017, 09:00AM


Uber car and phone. Sheer market forces seem to be breaking the stranglehold on Phuket's taxi mafia better than what Thai officials, incuding police, have ever been able to do. Photo: Mark Warner
Uber car and phone. Sheer market forces seem to be breaking the stranglehold on Phuket's taxi mafia better than what Thai officials, incuding police, have ever been able to do. Photo: Mark Warner

Despite official resistance, ride-sharing services enjoy huge levels of public support for their cheaper pricing, efficiency, convenient service and creation of flexible part-time jobs.

The ongoing reaction of the Thai government and taxi industry to this disruptive use of technology can be likened to the famous “Five Stages of Grief” theory – first expounded by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. She described the series of emotions experienced by terminally ill patients prior to their death as moving through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Ride-sharing services spell the death of the traditional taxi industry. We can currently see countries including the US, Brazil, India, China and now Thailand progressing through the stages of grief.

But much like death, the march of technology into previously protected industries is an immutable fact of life. We do, after all, live in a capitalist world and if a new entrant to the market can create demand by providing a better, cheaper service – then the market will inevitably incorporate them.

The reasons that Uber and GrabCar have been quick to attract customers here in Thailand are so obvious they barely need repeating. Thailand’s existing taxi services have been widely criticised as costly, unfriendly, inefficient, dangerous and at times just plain unavailable – as we know only too well in Phuket.

The Thai people’s love of smartphones is well documented and we constantly hear how Phuket is rapidly evolving into a “smart city”. So why don’t we just skip the first four stages and go straight to the inevitable acceptance of this new technology?

Because of Phuket’s taxi mafia! I hear you cry. Well, it may just be that ride-sharing services finally achieve, through sheer market force, what successive governments have so far failed to do – break the taxi mafia’s stranglehold on Phuket.

So we may have to wait a bit longer but it seems the outcome is as inevitable as our own mortality.  

 

 

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BenPendejo | 20 March 2017 - 17:56:20

ozcabman... I guess it just must be me that has issues with taxi scum, but don't forget that the #1 item on the NCPO task list was to break down the criminal taxi mafia, yet even those efforts failed, proving how entrenched this criminal element is.  Go ahead and be a Phuket taxi-lover...they would screw you over just as fast as me, and heaven forbid you should have any conflict with one on the open road, as they will not think twice to assault you and your family members.  Also, in the community where I live, cruise the streets at night and you will see that many of the nicer homes have taxis parked in the driveway or front yard, yet you act like the poor taxi scum are just trying to feed their poor children.  Bah!

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malczx7r | 20 March 2017 - 17:55:07

Ozcabman, fair comment about low season, i understand and yes it's still cheap compared to london.
Calling people scum is not good i agree, it's like some people i know on FB, they refer to other football teams and their fans with the same terminology, i hate that too! Going off topic there a bit!

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ozcabman | 20 March 2017 - 16:47:04

malczx7r....totally agree with you. I am very careful on the roads in Phuket and cringe when I see the way people (including taxis) drive here.

As far as the price of taxis goes in Phuket, I agree that they are much more expensive than the rest of Thailand but they also have a substantial low season to deal with....which is not necessarily the same case in bkk. It is funny how we all expect things to be so cheap in Thailand though isn't it? For example, that trip from Phuket Airport to Phuket Town....its a solid 45 minute drive that would cost £60 in London or $100 in Sydney. Yet when we are in Thailand we think £15 or $25 is stupidly expensive because in bkk the same journey would be half that price again.

Regardless of the above, like you, I have experienced both good and bad drivers the same as anywhere in the world. I book the same taxi driver every time I need to go to the airport....to refer to drivers as taxi scum I just can't deal with. Just such unnecessary generalisations about a group of working class people trying their best.   

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ozcabman | 20 March 2017 - 16:18:16

BenPendejo...."spoken like a cabby"??? But you don't know anything about me.

Funnily enough I have been living in Thailand for quite some time now....including Phuket for a couple of years. In my time here I have caught many taxis and never experienced the problems you speak of. I have however seen a lot of people speaking down to people in the service industries which perhaps you have experienced. I have always found that if you are polite and respectful then you get the same back. But you seem to have a lot of problems...I wonder why?

If you think it is ok to refer to a trade as 'scum' then that shows your true character. I'm sure a lot of people don't exactly love real estate agents either.....but regardless of this there is really never any need to use such derogatory generalisations.

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BenPendejo | 20 March 2017 - 11:25:51

@ ozcabman...spoken like a cabby.  And yes, I know several taxi drivers here in Phuket, as I rent villas and look after guests, and I can tell you that one of the worst aspects of hospitality biz has been dealing with Phuket taxi scum.  Like spoiled little children that behave like 10 year old little boys that skipped their meds.  Surly attitudes, impatient to the core, and every one of them carries a makeshift weapon in their car to deal with regular frustrations.  The taxi stands at the airport are as crooked as can be, and the last 3 times I have had to use them I had to take pictures of their license and demand they use the meter, which saved me every time when compared to the flat rate they charged.  Taxis are the scourge of Phuket...hated by both tourists and local Thais, and they earned that reputation themselves.  The best thing Phuket could do would be establish efficient public transportation so they can eliminate the need for this criminal element that is the taxi mafia.  

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malczx7r | 20 March 2017 - 10:24:37

ozcabman, the general reason people dislike the taxi's in Phuket is the high price, how can the capital city of a country be 2-3 times cheaper for taxi fares?

Also some taxi guys are ok but in general they are rude, drive badly and have no manners.  I recently had a taxi in bkk and asked the guy for the meter, as he wasn't going to use it, after a short while he said meter is for small car not his bigger car, to be fair it was a largr car.  When we arrived at the hotel the fare was 320b so as his car was bigger i gave him 500b, what was his response?  Nothing, didn't even say thank you, just wound his window up and drove off.  I have had worse experiences in bkk and Phuket, i no longer use Phuket taxis as the last time he scared the hell out of me, i thought we were going to crash at least twice.  When the government cracks down, i.e. forces the lazy RTP to do their job and improve road safety, then i may use them, for now, i know friends with cars and pay them instead.

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ozcabman | 19 March 2017 - 18:34:13

BenPendejo....exactly the type of taxi hating comments I expected from this article. The same people who speak with such anger (e.g.. taxi scum) are probably the people who speak to taxi drivers like they are their own personal slaves. Do you think there is such a thing as a wealthy taxi driver in the whole world? No, its a low paying job where you deal with the general public who generally make you feel down-trodden.

I'm not against technology but I am against people showing no compassion and expecting to get goods and services for free. There is a cost to driving a taxi and in Phuket the drivers have a long low season to deal with. I don't have a problem paying the equivalent of £15 for a 45 minute drive from the airport.

If you are polite and ever try to have a conversation with a driver I think you will find they are not scum at all.

Rant over.

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BenPendejo | 19 March 2017 - 14:39:37

Bring it on... I think.  The problem with Thailand though will be a free-for-all for every car-owning Thai wanting a piece of the action...with low-life taxi scum being replaced by other aggressive sub-standard drivers, not to mention the potential crossfire a rider might be subject to once the gunfights erupt between the self-entitled taxi mafia and the independent drivers.  I still welcome the options, but don't think for a minute that existing taxi scum will change their ways...they just aren't civilized enough.

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ozcabman | 19 March 2017 - 11:26:35

I'm sure this article will bring out all the taxi haters. 

The truth is that traditional taxis have invested heavily in the market. Some of this investment includes paying the government for a public transportation license. The reason uber etc. are cheap is because they don't follow the same laws as existing taxis. At the end of the day there is nothing new about uber. Its just a way to book a car. Uber is losing billions every year to try to destroy traditional taxis via predatory pricing. 

Do the public think uber will be cheap once they have destroyed all competition?

There is a lot wrong with uber and in my opinion this article seems to just repeat ubers  own false rhetoric. 

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