Trials and tribulations of Bangkok taxis

The cab driver pressed on the accelerator, driving fast and furiously until I felt enough was enough; I ordered him to pull over, gave him the fare and stepped out of the car. Picking up a local passenger like me from a shopping mall on Sukhumvit Road is not a way for him to make much money. I bet he drove straight back along the same road to pick up tourists.

Like many living in or visiting Bangkok, I have more than a few sour memories of these cab drivers. Like many, I have got into arguments with cab drivers over politics.

Some drivers are outright rude and intrusive. Once, a driver got irritated with my obsessive use of my smartphone and repeatedly said, "Sangkhom koem nah" (a society where people just look at the phone).

Anchalee Kongrut writes about the environment in the Life section, Bangkok Post.

No matter how crazy these experiences may seem, I still love using conventional taxis. For me, it is quite an adventure, sometimes irritating, but many times fun. Once I met a taxi driver with a moustache and face that would have made him a good fit for a mobster in a film, but who rather incongruously displayed a number of Hello Kitty dolls.

Another driver had decorated his car with miniature fishing gear, with a fishing net hanging from the top. One cab driver had plastered foreign banknotes around the interior, and another was a former jockey who shared heart-warming stories about racing tracks and the beauty of horses.

But the most memorable driver was one who was as old as his car -- which was pretty old. He thanked me profusely for using his service. "People, especially young people, just want to ride in a new car. Sometimes, they simply switch to a new car even after I have agreed to take them to their destination."

Of course I'm trying to adjust to Thailand's "Economy 4.0" and download apps such as Grab Taxi and Uber. I used the Uber service once and found the car was good. Interesting enough, Uber -- the San Francisco-based tech company -- stressed it is not a taxi service but a ride-sharing service, meaning its vehicles should not be registered as taxis.

Which brings me to my point. It is my belief that taxi driving is a profession and as consumers, we should patronise those who follow the rules. As soon as we get into a stranger's car, we put our safety in their hands. When hiring a taxi, at least, I believe I should know the name of the driver with whom I travel. I love to look at their licence, their age and the province they come from. Usually, I ask about their home town and their farm. Recently, I asked whether they fear internet applications are stealing their customers.

"Not much," said Petch. "I fear bad apples in the taxi business who choose their passengers more. Some of them even bribe officials to park in front of hotels. They are bad, not just for passengers, but also for fair competition.'' Petch is a driver whom I met using Grab Taxi. I've became his regular customer for over a year. "Instead of trying to arrest Uber drivers, police should get tough with unscrupulous taxis that park and wait for tourists. They should arrest those who swindle poor migrants or old peasants at Mor Chit bus terminal," he said.

If you chat with taxi drivers long enough, you will learn they categorise drivers in three groups. First is the "bad apples" group -- cab drivers who park right in front of hotels and department stores or busy roads like Sukhumvit and Silom, waiting to pick up passengers and turning off their meters when they do. It's these drivers who get mad with competitors such as Grab and Uber.

The second type are those who know how to adjust. They learn to use technology and usually pick up every passenger. The last group is drivers who fail to adjust. They simply rent old cars and just drive. I feel said when I get these drivers. They have no radio or mobile phone.

What is the best way to deal with these taxis? Many might choose to use an app service, and that is their choice. Yet it's important to foster real competition as well as protection for both consumers and drivers by making everyone compete under equal rules. I think the Land Transport Department should stop hunting Uber taxis and focus on those who abuse the system. Customers can have a role: report bad ones and award nice ones with kind words and good tips. Taxis are not just a vehicle. It is part of the bitter-sweet life of the city.


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