BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – Taxis in Phuket are among the worst in Thailand as they are mostly run by local mafias which extort horrendous fares to both visitors and locals. Uber application was launched last October in a rather discreet manner, serving mostly the Patong area. But the governor of Phuket declared it illegal in late November – a surprising position, as the governor is certainly much aware of the troubles faced by both visitors and locals when looking for a taxi on the popular island.
Positioned in each district and urban dwelling of Phuket, taxis work in total monopoly – with the tacit approval of local authorities – refusing to allow any alternative transport. It goes to the point where cruise ships landing in Phuket have no right to take their guests to town by private bus. Cruise passengers are literally assaulted by taxis when disembarking at the pier and are generally requested to pay at least 600 Baht (20 dollars) to go to Patong or Phuket town. In 2013, taxis even launched a strike to block a project of a bus service from Phuket International Airport.
It seems that the military government, after promising to crack down on taxi businesses, tried to get rid of local taxi mafias. The arrival in October of the Uber app was at first greeted with skepticism. At the end of November, the Department of Land Transportation (DLT) in Phuket issued a warning, alleging that “Uber cars are not safe as they are not part of the public transportation system.” Private drivers working under the Uber application are supposedly due to show a public transport license to operate. The DLT also warned about potential troubles when paying the service with a credit card.
Since then, discussions started and a compromise has been founded between the DLT and Uber. The App drivers will all be registered legal taxi drivers in Phuket and will meet all the requirements set by the department of transportation. Passengers will have at least the safety of not being ripped off with fares – prices are paid in advance by credit card. Uber guarantees a clean, safe, and recent vehicle – two major improvements compared to the current situation. The local government is even looking now at introducing more companies such as GrabTaxi, a group from Malaysia. For the passenger, it will also bring reliability, as Uber is inspecting drivers’ credentials and will not hesitate to sanction any driver who operates with reckless behavior.
Following consumers’ heavy complaints over cheating and dishonest taxi drivers – particularly in Kuala Lumpur – Malaysian app GrabTaxi has been turning increasingly popular, launching a real transportation revolution in the country. It is now time for Phuket to experience it. And probably for more cities in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia in a not so distant future.