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Phuket Opinion: Taxi cartels losing the turf war

Phuket Opinion: Taxi cartels losing the turf war

PHUKET: The declaration by Phuket Vice Governor Amnuay Rodkwan Yodrabham on Friday (Sept 9) that Phuket taxi drivers “must do better” has to be a contender for understatement of the year.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 11 September 2022, 10:00AM

Photo: The Phuket News / file

Photo: The Phuket News / file

Vice Governor Amnuay delivered his message at a meeting of taxi drivers to “rehearse” the rules and regulations governing taxi drivers, their behaviour and operations.

That meeting was held in response to four tourists arriving from Phi Phi Island being forced to exit a taxi van they had ordered by the Bolt app. The tourists were forced to take a “Ratsada VIP” taxi operating at the pier under a concession – an act that saw the taxi group branded as “mafia” in a slew of comments posted online.

If the taxi drivers haven’t noticed, the Ratsada Pier incident happened only because the tourists, young women from Israel, were already aware of booking a taxi by a phone app, and thus bypassing the “organised” drivers and their paid-for exclusive rights to passengers at specific locales through a “concession”.

Even Pol Col Pichetpong Jangklaikom, Chief of the Tourist Police Region 3 branch, based in Phuket, after conducting a very quick investigation of the incident warned, “We must be careful because of the use of social media. If there is an incident, there will be an effect.”

That message obviously didn’t get through to Adcha Buachan, Chief of the Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO), whose first public response to the incident was to threaten people using private cars as taxis with the full extent of the law.

Dumbfoundingly, Mr Adcha seemed to not have understood that his warning would also make its way across social media, only entrenching people’s understanding of exactly how Phuket’s taxi groups operate and who protects their interests.

The warning had absolutely no relevance to the Ratsada Pier incident. The van the Israeli tourists had ordered was confirmed by police and the PLTO itself to be fully legally registered as a commercial passenger vehicle complete with “yellow and black” licence plates.


Ironically, it has been the taxi driver directly involved in the Ratsada Pier incident, Ekachai Decha, who has so far painted a very clear picture of the taxi cartels stranglehold on access to tourists in Phuket.

In Mr Ekachai’s denial that the Ratsada Pier drivers were “mafia”, he plainly said, “Why don’t you call the taxi drivers at the airport ‘mafia’? It is a B2,000 fine for any taxi driver not belonging to that group being caught there.” Yes, Mr Ekachai, most people do; and yes, not all cartels in Phuket are the same and most do not work in alliance with each other.

Phuket Mai Khao Sakhu Co Ltd (PMK) and Phuket Limousine and Business Services Cooperative (PBC) are the two companies that have rights to operate taxis at Phuket International Airport under a concession with Airports of Thailand (AoT).

With AoT defined this week as a state enterprise, despite shares being traded on the stock exchange, that makes the taxi concession at Phuket airport a state-enforced monopoly. Period. As such, senior Land Transport officials will even fly down from Bangkok to protect the taxi drivers’ interests. After all, why pay if there is no protection?

That model has been replicated all across the island. As Col Pichetpong confirmed with the “Ratsada VIP” concession, “The concession is fully legal and allowed under the regulations of the Land Transport Office.” That means all such taxi concessions in Phuket are fully legal, state-enforced micro-monopolies.

What the money grabbers and taxi cartels have yet to understand is that while they are burying their heads in the sand, everyday people are making the decision for them, turning to apps such as Grab and Bolt to hire taxis, with Phuket taxi cartels losing their turf war. Everyday people are finally achieving what Phuket’s metered taxis have never been able to do.

However, Phuket airport remains a bastion of taxi concession power on the island, where tourists arriving have no choice but walk to the main road outside to be picked up by Bolt or Grab drivers. Bolt and Grab are allowed at Suvarnabhumi airport. There is no reason why Phuket airport should be any different.

See also:

Phuket Opinion: Being taken for a ride

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DeKaaskopp | 12 September 2022 - 18:21:32

@Timothy  Regarding different prices for taxis in Bangkok /Phuket. That is quite a stupid question, as there are regional different prices in many countries. I am sure that even in your country prices vary from city to city !

Timothy | 12 September 2022 - 15:55:25

Mav, I disagree. The cost of living for locals is not much different. My Thai girlfriend prefers local food and markets. Prices are similar to BKK. BKK taxis are constantly stuck in traffic, making even short trips take much longer, with the meter barely moving. I have Thai friends that live in apartments for 5000 per month. Fuel cost is almost the same. Not a valid argument.      

maverick | 12 September 2022 - 10:01:36

Timothy@ for the same reason everything is more expensive here -cost of living for Thais is much higher than Bangkok due mainly to high rents and greedy landlords these feeds it’s way into everything Thais pay for here especially food it’s a cost multiplier as everyone needs a roof over their head and business’s also get nailed 

Timothy | 12 September 2022 - 09:29:15

John, the PN said that if you want to be picked up by Bolt or Grab you have to go to the main road. If you are able to do so at Swampy, why not Phuket airport? That is the issue. And if we are talking about the meter taxi. Why are the meter taxi here allowed to charge way more than the meter taxi in BKK? 

JohnC | 12 September 2022 - 09:06:40

Have to disagree with your last paragraph PN. Tourists do not have to walk to the main road outside. There are metered taxi booths at both terminals outside the arrivals halls. Why did you fail to mention this obvious alternative?

Timothy | 12 September 2022 - 09:03:49

The taxi mafia give tourists a bad impression of Phuket for the short time that they are here. Many choose to risk their life renting motorbikes to get around. Expats living here have to deal with these a-holes everyday. Reckless driving, rip off fares, giving us no choice but to use our vehicles even when going out to party. Taxis like BKK please! 

Kurt | 11 September 2022 - 12:33:58

Tourists arriving Suvarnabhumi airport experience a normal taxi industry in BKK, later, arriving on Phuket they fall in hands of by Government PLTO installed concession transport cartels by many felt as transport mafia. After holidays they talk in home countries about the Phuket corruption. Phuket's anti-tourism problem is transport cartel/mafia  institutionalizing PLTO.

maverick | 11 September 2022 - 12:05:49

Many people are now voting with their feet there are plenty of alternatives to rip off taxi’s - these people are shooting themselves in both feet.

Fascinated | 11 September 2022 - 10:55:05

A 'concession' implies a payment so who gets it- follow the money! Social media is the way ahead with these thugs.

cheez | 11 September 2022 - 10:36:50

The Phuket News just saying.... again and again and again.... for how many more times???

Kurt | 11 September 2022 - 10:36:15

When Phuket really wants to lift a bit of well known corruption on the Island than it should start with mucking out PLTO. All the cartel problems start there with handing out ( for money) 'consessions'. As long the concession practice remains, Phuket airport  and Suvarnabhumi airport will be different in tourist transport treatment. Why has PLTO such a accepted long corrupt arm?

Kurt | 11 September 2022 - 10:20:49

Words Colonel Picherpong: "we must be careful because of the use of social media. If there is a incident there will be an effect", Yes Colonel, there will be an effect, not fault of social media, but because of wrong Tourist Treatment op Phuket. Funny, Officialdom still refuse to act so social media is not longer needed to get attention for the shocking tourist treatment.

Capricornball | 11 September 2022 - 10:16:09

Good piece PN.  Time to keep shining the light on these miserable thug-run cartels that do so much damage to the reputation of Phuket as a quality tourist destination. Every opportunity to lessen the hold these lowlife mafiosos have on safe and affordable public transportation should be exploited.  This is clearly a case where social media can have a positive influence in society.


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