Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Last weekend when I was in Kuala Lumpur, I did not realise that there was an unofficial strike by taxi drivers demanding higher fares. The taxi driver who ferried me from Plaza Seni (Central Market) to Segambut, told me that he (and other taxi drivers) had received messages asking them to stay away and not drive on Friday and Saturday. Apparently a few taxi drivers who decided to ignore had their windscreens smashed.

Today’s (Mondays September 3, 2007) newspapers reported that taxi drivers are being fined between RM100 and RM 300 by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) for not adhering to the code of uniform set by them. The offences among others include not wearing socks, not tucking in their shirts or even wearing dark brown shoes instead of black.

CVLB Chairman Datuk Markiman Kobiran said that the government was serious in enforcing the regulation on uniforms and that there would be a continuous crackdown on errant taxi drivers.

Clearly, CVLB has got its enforcement priorities all mixed up. The truth is that the average passenger is least bothered whether the taxi driver wears brown shoes or if he tucks in his shirt. Instead, what is important to the average passenger is that he expects the taxi driver to takes him to his destination, charge the fare according to the meter and with the least amount of fuss and rant. Of course the passenger also hopes for a clean and odorless taxi and a driver with neat appearance and pleasant personality. But in Malaysia, that’s asking too much.

In New York, Melbourne, London or closer home Singapore, one can flag a taxi, get in, tell the destination, be ferried to the destination and pay the fare according to the meter. It is as easy as that.

Not in Malaysia. After flagging a taxi, one has to pray, ask and hope that it is not too much of a trouble for the taxi driver to ferry you to your destination. Once he agrees, you have to then agree on the fare determined by him. Only after these brief formalities are completed you are invited into the very often weather beaten taxi.

In Johor Bahru one would be hard-pressed to find taxis using meters. Even if it is used, be assured that the fare on the meter is hardly ever followed. Instead a fare which is usually higher than the meter is the norm. On weekends and on Singapore holidays when Singaporeans flock to Johor Bahru, it’s a field day for taxi drivers. They simply ignore the locals and seek out the gullible Singaporeans who because of the exchange rate don’t mind paying the silly fares demanded by the taxi drivers.

What irks most passengers is the attitude of the taxi drivers who keep demanding for taxi fare rises but correspondingly show no sense of professionalism or have any desire to improve their image. It is always about them and their interest. Their usual complaint by the taxi drivers is that they have to pay high rental charges for their taxis. But shouldn’t this be an issue between the taxi drivers and the relevant authorities including the taxi companies. Why should the passengers be the victim and be fleeced of their money?

I speak with experience. In 2000, a taxi drivers association in Johor Bahru appointed me as their legal advisor. Regretfully, their shenanigans disgusted me, so much so that I tendered my resignation.

According to the rules, once a taxi is flagged down, the taxi driver has to take the passenger to wherever he wishes to go. Not so. Instead, it is the taxi driver who makes a considered decision whether to ferry you to the said destination. If he decides not, four standard excuses can be expected namely “tukar shif”, “on call”, “tak pergi sana” or “mau sembayang”. Next comes the fare haggling. Sometimes the taxi driver tells the fare only when the passenger has got into the taxi and after being driven a few metres. Disagree and he simply drops the passenger off there and there.

Hand towels near the taxi meter is not for the taxi drivers to wipe his hands or perspiration but instead used to cover the meter. If hand towels are not available a call card can be used to mask the fare. At the destination, the taxi driver takes a peek at the meter and then demand from the passenger a fare which is higher than the meter.

If you late about town, one would also observe the ritual of the taxis mysteriously going missing from 11.30 to midnight and only to appear after 12 am when the midnight charges have kicked in. Observe how after midnight droves of taxis appear and taxi drivers enthusiastically horn at you or drive close and stop close to the person standing near a sidewalk.

The reason taxi drives are able to behave like this is simply because they know that not only that the average passenger would not be bothered to report them to the authorities but also enforcement by authorities are never continuous but instead “seasonal”. I have made two reports against taxi drivers who demanded and overcharged me. After more that two years and despite numerous letters of reminders I have yet to get a reply from CVLB about my complaints.

So instead of CVLB getting all flustered about the physical appearance of the taxi drivers, it is advisable for CVLB to weed out taxi drivers who do not use meters, who overcharge passengers and who picks and chooses passengers and routes. Until and unless taxi drivers hear and see of licenses being revoked, taxi drivers will simply continue to fleece passengers. CVLB and the relevant authorities should start a crackdown and haul up these taxi drivers and until this is done it is the poor passengers who would continue to suffer.

Norman Fernandez
3rd September 2007