Suvarnabhumi International Airport is plagued by "mafia" taxi drivers who are notorious for turning off meters and charging unwitting foreign tourists extortionate fares.
The junta is trying to end this problem by introducing smart cards to make cheating drivers accountable, but there are doubts over the scheme’s effectiveness given the complicated taxi set-up at the airport.
An Airports of Thailand official, who asked not to be named, said there were two groups of taxi drivers – those registered with the airport on the ground floor and those who drop off passengers on the departure floor. The so-called “mafia” drivers were among the latter, he said.
“We can’t control the taxis on the departure floor because they don’t belong to the airport system. We can only control the taxis registered to us,” the official said.
That was why some taxis can offer fixed prices that are much more expensive than the regular meter fare and get away with it.
An AOT traffic control official on the departure floor said most drivers were dishonest but there were around 100 drivers a day who came to the airport to swindle foreigners.
The official, who withheld his name, said they would charge Bt600 or Bt700 to go to Bangkok, and around Bt1,500 to go to Pattaya, as they targeted foreigners.
“They just park and wave at foreigners to get in their car. We have to chase them away with cars and motorbikes and then they circle around the airport and come back. They’re not scared of us,” he said.
On this day, he tried to detain a taxi that had parked too long and was nearly hit when the car sped off.
The National Council for Peace and Order announced on Wednesday that it would introduce the smart card system for registered taxis at the airport in a bid to end the “mafia-style operation”.
However, the AOT official said this solution was unrelated to the problem as it only targeted registered taxis, which were already tightly controlled and monitored. It wouldn’t affect the unregistered taxis.
Penprapa, a taxi booth operator, said that there was no chance of dodgy drivers infiltrating the ground floor.
“Taxi drivers can’t choose their passengers and they don’t know where the passengers are heading beforehand. They queue up, then we call them to the customers, then they get the address,” she said.
Charas Sunsrisak, 60, a taxi driver registered at the airport since it opened eight years ago, agreed.
“How can we be mafia here? There are lots of regulations, procedures and records being kept,” he said.
The registration process involves drivers providing their personal history and presenting a clean criminal record. They also have to give their name and licence number to the taxi booth operator and the passenger every time they take a job.
The smart card, which is linked to the database of a driver’s personal history and fingerprint, would only make things more convenient for registered taxis, Charas said, as the smart card meant they bypass the booth operator.
The traffic control official said that the AOT could not deal with unregistered taxis because they did not scare them.
“We have no power to deter them because we can’t arrest or charge them. Sometimes we detain them and hand them over to the police, but the police let them go with a warning because they didn’t break any laws,” he said.
He proposed that a law be issued which allows AOT officials to charge crooked taxi drivers in the same way Don Mueang Airport did.