If national figures want to talk up their bid to host what has been branded ‘Phuket Expo 2028’, this is one issue that needs serious attention, or else visitors for the expo will get a genuine ‘Phuket experience’.
The press conference at Phuket Provincial Hall, on Thursday (Mar 30), was held to announce that the Phuket Land Transport Office, with support from police, will continue to actively hunt independent taxi drivers using the Bolt or inDriver apps to receive passengers.
As always, what was revealed at the meeting was only somewhat as important as what was not revealed. PLTO Chief Adcha Buachan repeated that currently only two taxi apps are legal in Phuket: Hello Phuket and Grab. The two taxi-hailing apps have a total of 365 drivers registered to provide taxi services. Hello Phuket has 228 drivers registered, Grab has 111 drivers registered and 26 drivers are registered with both apps, he said.
What was not revealed was how many drivers in Phuket are currently registered with the Bolt and inDriver apps, information that Mr Adcha has now had two months to gather since he launched the crackdown on “illegal” taxi drivers on Feb 3.
Also just as telling, and still not yet confirmed by Mr Adcha, is how many new green taxi registrations his office have approved since the beginning of the year. This was one of the key obstacles legally registered ‘green plate’ taxi drivers raised when the campaign began. The PLTO was not accepting any application for taxis to be registered in Phuket, even if they have already been legally registered in other areas such as Bangkok, unless they had been approved by a local taxi company or co-operative.
On that note, since the PLTO on Feb 14 conceded that the law allows legally registered ‘green plate’ taxis from outside Phuket to operate on the island, Mr Adcha and his cohorts have made no mention of the drivers they already fined and suspended their licences. There has not even been a public apology, nevermind any mention of reparations, for Mr Adcha leading a state agency in illegally depriving citizens from making a legal livelihood. That’s what Governor Narong has on his plate.
Mr Adcha’s current campaign against Bolt and inDriver also flies in the face of a previously established policy of tacitly allowing at least Bolt to operate on the island, as evidenced by his predecessor Jaturong Kaewkasi in February last year publicly admitting that one strategy slated for further discussion was allowing Grab, Bolt and metered taxis to pick up passengers in areas currently controlled by Phuket’s taxi cartels.
By June last year ‘JustGrab’ updated its service areas in Phuket. “From 13 June 2022 onwards… JustGrab Phuket will be operating only in limited areas,” the company announced. “Passengers can book JustGrab to pick-up and drop-off within Old Town, Patong & Karon only.” That’s how far that initiative got.
With Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob suspended from duty pending a ruling over his alleged share concealment, Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate as caretaker transport minister has a decision to make. Will the PLTO, led by Mr Adcha, continue to be allowed to make these decisions for Phuket, in plain protection of selected taxi companies and co-operatives, and deem which areas in Phuket drivers for taxi apps such as Grab may operate, or whether drivers for Bolt and inDriver are allowed to operate in Phuket at all while they are tacitly allowed to operate elsewhere in the country?
If any guidance is needed in making the decision, it is as simple as the presence of Bolt and inDriver drivers themselves. The so-called ‘green plate’ taxi drivers in Phuket have never served the people of Phuket. Their realm has been the airport, hotels and major tourist attractions, all taregetting tourists with overinflated fares. As Phuket does not have a public transport system, Bolt, Grab and inDriver have filled the void for Phuket residents, and in a world of mobile phones and social media, tourists are fast learners.
Add to this that for all the grand plans for the new expressway to be built down the centre of the island, and the light rail, and the Patong Tunnel, altogether costing tens of billions of baht, no mention has been made for the “last mile” solution. It will be taxis providing this service, and the cartels know it.
Action needs to be taken on this, and in today’s world a free open market is needed. A market fettered by cartels being protected by a state agency will not be good enough. National figures need to come up with some solution before the 170 member states of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in June cast their votes on where the World Specialised Expo 2027/28 will be held – unless of course this is the form of sustainability and ’Future of Life: Living in Harmony, Sharing Prosperity’ the Thai government wants to present to the world.
Kurt | 03 April 2023 - 09:35:07