September 02, 2012 00:00 By Thanaphat Kitjakosol
The campaign against taxi drivers who turn down passengers has met with complaints from the cabbies and also raised doubts among commuters about their success.
Cabbies criticised the Bt1,000 fine for refusing to accept passengers as the crackdown kicked off yesterday.
Passengers believe the measure is not going to meet with success unless there is strict enforcement.
Taxi drivers will be immediately fined Bt1,000 if they are caught red-handed refusing to accept passengers while leaving the “vacant” sign on and in cases where passengers complain to police present at the scene.
Pol Col Weerawit Wajanapukka of Traffic Police Division said if police are not present at the scene, passengers can file a complaint on hotline 1584 or 1197 or www.trafficpolice.go.th by providing the name of the driver, the taxi registration number, and the time and place of the incident. Police will then summon the driver for investigation and prosecution.
The top reasons or excuses cited by taxi drivers for not accepting passengers are: taxi rental time is up and the vehicle must be returned, running out of gas, traffic congestion, the distance is too short or too long, passengers refusing to pay more for excessively long distance, accepting only foreign passengers.
None of these reasons can exempt them from being fined. What irritates many passengers is when the drivers turn them down without citing any reason, with only a shake of their head.
Udon Khanti, chairman of the Volunteer Taxi Cub, believes the Bt1,000 fine for a first-offence is too harsh. He said taxi drivers should be given the right to refuse passengers in some circumstances such as those who they think may harass or assault them, and allowed to refuse to go to destinations that are too isolated where they could be at risk of being mugged.
Weerapong Butkaew, a taxi driver, said near the time to return the taxi, he cannot take a long-distance trip or to a destination out of his way because if he returns the taxi late, he would be fined by the taxi operator.
Sanya Wongtri, 29, opposed the crackdown across Bangkok and suburbs, arguing that the police should crack down only in congested areas where there are lots of passengers such as Siam, Silom, Pratunam, and Mor Chit.
Kasem Jumduang, a taxi passenger, hailed the crackdown, saying regulating taxi service is much needed but he was not sure the measure is practical and effective because police are not present at the scene everywhere. If taxi drivers are summoned by police they can simply deny involvement.
“It may be like other enforcement measures such as crash helmet and seat belts, which die down after a few months of campaign,’’ he said.
Piyathip Tantaprapa, a company employee, disapproved of the crackdowns saying it gives the police a chance to harass taxi drivers. She believed the problem should be tackled at the root by giving training and screening taxi drivers so as to grant professional licences only to those without criminal records.
Chantra Kochokchai, 46, said she was often turned down, but she feared the crackdown would not be consistent.
The crackdown on taxi drivers is part of ongoing efforts by the Metropolitan Police Bureau to solve the traffic congestion. Other measures such as banning police from setting up checkpoints to give tickets during rush hours and monitoring on-duty traffic police by putting cameras on them to reduce bribery have received overwhelming public support.
The MPB is planning to strictly crack down against motorists for 13 other offences: racing on public roads; excessive speed, unsafe overtaking, drunk driving, travelling the wrong way up, not wearing a crash helmet, double parking, no licence plates, excessive toxic fumes, illegal parking, parking on a footpath, driving along a footpath, and taxi drivers refusing to accept passengers. Traffic offenders will receive a warning ticket for a first-time offence and if they repeat the offence, they will be fined at the maximum rate.
Statistics show that about 12,800 people filed complaints against taxi drivers for several offences from January to June this year. The top complaints included refusing to accept passengers, verbally rude, dropping off passengers before the agreed destination, unsafe driving, and refusing to use the meter. Of the total, 4,207 taxi drivers or 32 per cent have been summoned for questioning and fined.