Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What does it take to stop taxi drivers overcharging?

HAVE some of Kuala Lumpur's taxi drivers become festive robbers?

That was the impression two taxi drivers gave my wife and children last week when they decided to take a trip to Suria KLCC from Wangsa Maju.

One wanted to charge RM20 to go to KLCC while another, hailed outside KLCC, wanted double the amount for the return trip.

Neither wanted to use the meter and one scolded my wife for not agreeing to his request since it was Chinese New Year.

Fortunately for the unscrupulous taxi drivers, my wife and children did not take down their vehicle registration numbers.

When cab fares were revised not long ago, one thought the daylight robbery would stop.

Apparently, it hasn't. And it may take a while if the behaviour of the two drivers is any indication.

Perhaps it's a festive thing -- like how the kuih seller raises the price of ang koo (turtle-shaped dumplings) by 10 sen each or the fishmonger charging RM10 more for each kilogramme of prawns.

Those who provide a service seem to think it is alright to raise prices, knowing that they will get away with it because of high demand during the festive period.

In my wife's case, she decided not to use the taxis and waited for buses instead although it took her and the children two station changes.

They also had to walk some distance under the blazing sun.

But there is never a shortage of victims for the two rogue taxi drivers. Some of their victims, like tourists visiting KL for the first time, could be caught unawares.

Sometimes, even locals unfamiliar with other alternatives are forced to put up with it.

What will it take to rid the city of these unscrupulous taxi drivers?

Short of noting their vehicle registration numbers and reporting them to the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board -- a process that not many are keen to undertake because of the potential disappointment it presents if the complaints department cannot be reached -- is there a more sensible way to discourage taxi drivers from overcharging?

Recently, I saw a number of stickers on some taxis which stated: "This is a metered taxi. Haggling is prohibited. Request for your receipt".

I hope this is a sign of good things to come and not just lip service so that when you flag down a taxi, you need not do so with a silent prayer that the cabbie who acknowledges your wave is not out to "rob" you.

Back in the early 1990s, courtesy campaigns were held to educate KL's taxi drivers in good driving habits and the importance of courtesy and honesty.

We can see today how far we have succeeded. Sure, those driving old Peugeots and Datsuns do not roam the streets anymore and most vehicles are air-conditioned now. But the bad habits of some taxi drivers still linger.

I have met enough city taxi drivers to know of their hardships in making ends meet daily. It's a constant struggle which depends on luck, traffic conditions and passengers.

High rental, fuel costs and bad jams can cause them to end the day with a pittance to take home.

However, despite their daily struggle, there are taxi drivers who manage to earn an honest living without having to resort to overcharging. So, if they can do it, why can't the others?

These honest cabbies certainly do not deserve having their reputation ruined by the black sheep in their midst.

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