The highest-ranking soldier on the island, Lt Col Santi Sakuntanark, Commander of the Royal Thai Army’s 25th Infantry Regiment, which is based in Phuket, led soldiers and security personnel in accompanying Patong Traffic Police patrolling the streets.
However, despite the hard words leading up the crackdown, efforts today amounted to little more than explanations of the new parking regulations to drivers found still parked outside the new “taxi stands”, which are now clearly marked by painted parking bays and signs.
Drivers found with their tuk-tuks and taxis parked outside the new stands were not even asked to move their vehicles.
“Today is just the first day. Lots of them are fine with following the new rules, they understand,” Col Santi told The Phuket News.
“For the first three days (Aug 3-5) we are only informing and warning them about the new parking regulations. Some drivers might have been busy working and not been told about the new regulations, so this is our chance to tell them on streets,” he said.
“Everything needs time. There are a lot of drivers, maybe about 1,000 of them, and it will take time to make sure all of them know about the new regulations. Also, this has been a problem in Patong, and elsewhere in Phuket, for many years,” Col Santi added.
“Patong Police, officers from the Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO) as well as municipality officials will continue to go around and check every day. They will report anything they find and feedback to the Provincial Public Transportation Committee (PPTC) after 15 days,” he noted.
“We also explained to them how the new system will not damage their income at all,” Col Santi added.
“I hope other drivers listen and understand this,” he told The Phuket News, in plain reference to the reaction so far from several key representatives of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers in Patong who have not backed down from their stance that the 21 taxi stands allocated by the PPTC were not enough.
Weerapon Kongboon, head of the tuk-tuk rank in front of the Jungceylon shopping mall told The Phuket News, he was “fine” with the rolling out of the new rules – for now.
“So they came today. Let’s see how it turns out. If we find any problems with this, we will let them know,” he said.
Mr Weerapon admitted that he was one operator who wanted more parking spaces for tuk-tuks in Patong.
“I have 90 cars in this queue. I would like to ask for extra parking spaces because five parking spaces is difficult to work with and manage with our 90 cars. Also, even with this number of cars, our income is not enough.” he said.
The soft start to the campaign today follows a meeting at Patong Police Station on Monday (July 31) where drivers were told that a first warning for parking outside the designated areas would see their vehicle details and names recorded and handed over to the PLTO.
If found guilty, they were to be fined, with a second infringement to be punished by having their commercial drivers’ licence suspended for seven days. Another infraction would incur their licence to be suspended for 15 days, and further repeat offenders would be called in for “attitude adjustment”. (See story here.)
In response, after the meeting on Monday, Anan Pluemjit, a key representative and frontman for the drivers, told The Phuket News that Patong tuk-tuk and taxi drivers would continue their fight against the military-backed drive to regain scores of parking spaces in the resort town and return them to the public.
“This is not acceptable for us… Having a total 84 parking point is the solution for everything,” he said.
Mr Anan vowed that the drivers would “stand for our purpose”.
“Everything we have presented has been ignored. It is like a blind alley. The committee has made something easy to become a harder issue. We will meet about this soon,” he added.
Also after the meeting on Monday, Col Santi noted the “issue” of dealing with the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers.
“We still see that the main problem is that they do not listen,” Col Santi told The Phuket News.
“Other tuk-tuk and taxi drivers are fine. We have adapted the plan as best we can for them, but some of them still want to keep to their old ways. What they demand it is not possible,” he said.
However, several drivers speaking to The Phuket News today – not in the presence of soldiers or police – revealed their support for Mr Anan.
One driver, wearing dark sunglasses with his vehicle parked illegally on Thaweewong Rd, told The Phuket News, “I don’t like the new rules. I agree with Mr Anan…”
Another driver who was found with his vehicle parked in a public space, when asked what he would do when the Army arrived – while Col Santi and his team were standing literally across the road – simply replied “I don’t care.”