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Army scheme to clean up public transport abuses

The Army is targeting issues over public transport services - especially motorcycle taxis, vans and taxicabs. Meanwhile, First Army Area chief Lt-General Theerachai Nakawanich, who oversees the Central region, has ordered senior Army officers in the area to hold serious talks with operators.

The mission to bring order to the transport services stems from public complaints about overly expensive fares and vehicles blocking traffic flows. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is responding as part of its "return happiness to Thai people" policy.

A source in the Army's operative team said operators of motorcycle taxis, van and taxi services had raised issues of their own too, including: demands on them for "protection fees", their requests for more relaxed traffic laws, and illegal motorcycle-taxi stands.

Besides urgently summoning transport operators to talk at length, the Army will join police in bringing order to traffic-law enforcement, the source said. A four-party committee comprising transport-service operators, Army personnel, police and the Land Transport Department will be set up to compile problem-solving recommendations to the NCPO-assigned working committee, the source said.

In a second phase, a to-be-established national legislative assembly, would amend transport-related laws, the source added.

The four-party committee would also discuss legal points and initially tackle fare rates, the traffic-law problems of taxi drivers, and the fee-demand practices of extortionists they called "influential figures". Army officers in respective areas would supervise the tackling of these issues, the source added.

Responsible Army units - especially in the problematic areas - have gathered much information already, according to Theerachai's instructions, the source said.

"Many units had reported details about who runs which taxi stands. The area commanders will invite the operators in question to talk at length."

Besides urging operators to observe traffic laws, the area commanders would look into why fares had been raised. Any new price rates should be according to law.

Taxi Motorcyclists' Association chairman Chalerm Changthongmadan said he had provided information on Monday to the Army about profit-involved parties and other related issues. He claimed only 150,000 of the 200,000 motorcycle-taxi stands were legal.

He said the so-called "influential figures" had survived previous crackdowns and ran these new ones to cheat customers. If their actions were disputed they would threaten or assault legitimate operators. He said taxi motorcyclists from these illegal stands usually overcharged passengers.

Chalerm asked the Army to act against illegal operators; to deal with taxi motorcyclists who made their vests without permission and split rent money with influential figures and crooked officials; and to reduce the time for background checks for public-transport licences to one month, instead of three.

The taxi motorcyclists wear the vests with a number to identify themselves and their stands. Each vest concession fee can range from Bt30,000 up to Bt100,000, depending on the location and number of passengers.

Besides the profitable taxi-motorcyclist vests, many stands also charged a motorcycle-rental fee worth hundreds to thousands of baht a month - some of which is reportedly paid as "protection fees" to officials.

The "fee" collecting was confirmed by a source at a state agency team working to counter extortionists, who said a small motorcycle-taxi stand paid Bt2,000-Bt3,000 a month - while a large one paid Bt5,000-Bt6,000. The operators formed an association to complain about such "fees" but were threatened with stricter law enforcement, intended to pressure them to continue paying the fees, the source said.

Public transport vans have their "fees", too. A small stand paid Bt15,000-Bt20,000 a month while a larger one Bt30,000-Bt100,000 - and operators had to pay an extra amount at both ends of the journey, the source said.

There were also along-the-way fees paid in thousands of baht.

Such payments were collected by uniformed figures, hence the operators had to collect the money from their van drivers.

These figures could control the number of vans using a route, too, he added.


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