First and foremost was the absence of any mention of the airport, which was exactly where officers from the Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO) turned up the next day to conduct “random” inspections.
By happenstance, PLTO officers on Friday caught one green-plate taxi driver from Bangkok and one individual using a car still fitted with red licence plates, which are issued to brand-new vehicles while waiting for official licence plates to arrive.
Also missing from the simultaneous grandstanding by officials and the taxi cartel members on Thursday was the penalty for being caught illegally using a vehicle registered for private use as a taxi.
Only last September, when issuing yet another warning against illegal taxi drivers, did PLTO Chief Adcha Buachan warn that any people found using vehicles not registered as taxis to provide a taxi service would be prosecuted under the full extent of the law. People caught doing so faced up to five years in jail or a fine of B20,000 to B100,000, or both, Mr Adcha said.
No mention was made this time that this "full extent of the law" will be enforced.
But most noticeable from the protest was the absence of fellow taxi drivers who also stand to suffer from loss of income from illegal taxis ‒ namely metered taxi drivers and people operating fully legal, registered taxis through apps.
There was no solidarity in this “protest”. The public antics on Thursday were by one group, and one group alone: green-plate taxi drivers operating at the airport.
It was not lost on any observer that an official notice in support of the aggrieved taxi drivers was issued by provincial officials on the same day that the protest was held, only further entrenching the public image of collusion by officials in preserving one group of taxi drivers above others ‒ all in the name of protecting their legal rights.
The fact that the drivers at the protest were claiming that illegal taxis were undercutting their prices screams loudly as to where the problem truly lies ‒ it’s in the money to be made by forcing or duping tourists through lack of options or lack of information to use selected taxi services at the airport.
Thinking that they’re clever, the players in this sham do enough to avoid any clear cut definitions that will land them on the wrong side of specifically crafted regulations, enforced fully as laws. There are metered taxis at the airport, arrivals just have to learn where to find them, and taxi app drivers are allowed to drop passengers off, but not pick them up, at the airport.
As for the money the ‘green plate’ taxi drivers are losing, it is this group that charges the highest fares at the airport. (See image gallery for list of ‘maximum fares’ agreed to by drivers of taxis with green licence plates at the airport, or download the full list for the whole island here.)
Metered taxis in Phuket still charge nearly double than their counterparts in Bangkok since new fare rates for the capital were introduced on Jan 16 (see image gallery) ‒ and yet there is still little incentive, financial or otherwise, for more taxi drivers to join their ranks.
The current rates for metered taxis in Phuket are: B50 for the first 2km; B12/km for km 2-15; and B10/km for km 15 and beyond. The fare also increases by B1 per minute when taxis move at speeds not exceeding 6km per hour. Another B50 is charged for booking taxis via a call centre and 100 baht for passengers picking up taxis at a designated area at the airport.
Taxi app drivers are among the cheapest (see image gallery), and still saw no reason to join the protest on Thursday.
Among the key points not raised by the green plate taxi drivers during their media presentation on Thursday is that there are more than 6,300 of them on the island. In comparison, there are only 277 metered taxis in Phuket. That might point officials in the right direction if they ever have an inclination to finally address the core issues regarding taxi ‘turf wars’ in Phuket.
If the green plate taxi drivers want to hold a protest that might actually improve their situation, they might want to consider calling out Airports of Thailand (AoT) on their policy for making selective taxi services available at Phuket airport ‒ a practice not observed at the two main international airports in Bangkok, which AoT also operates.
In the meantime, if green plate taxi drivers are having trouble finding work, there are still thousands of vacancies at hotels and other tourism-related businesses waiting to be filled. However, they might need to undergo some ‘service mind’ training first.
Kurt | 06 February 2023 - 09:25:55