PHUKET: The proposed bus network between Phuket International Airport and Phuket's western and southern beaches is back on the agenda tomorrow.
Talks are to take place at the Phuket Land Transport Office in Phuket City about plans for a public meeting to gauge the wishes and needs of Phuket's residents for a low cost, hop-on, hop-off bus service.
The meeting is expected to provide different views to those of the tuk-tuk drivers and taxi drivers in the Kata-Karon area who have already said they will blockade Phuket roads if the buses run.
As an international holiday destination with high-priced tuk-tuks and taxis or high-risk motorcycles as the only transport choices on offer for many, Phuket faces joining the real world or falling off the international tourism map.
What's disturbing in a social sense is that Phuket's young men appear too often to aspire to the easy life of a taxi driver charging extortionate fares rather than seek a university degree.
No other place in the world has elevated driving tuk-tuks and taxis to this kind of unreal status. Taxi drivers in other places are usually industrious, not, as they become on Phuket, relatively idle, yet growing rich.
No wonder that the number of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers on Phuket continues to expand, day by day. They join the village boys' clubs renowned for maintaining their monopoly over Phuket transport.
The fares are not just excessive but extortionate, outlandish and outrageous. This is because passengers are forced to pay for a journey they don't make - the journey the tuk-tuk or the taxi takes back to its original base.
Phuket's traditional village system permits taxis and tuk-tuks to deliver passengers to other parts of Phuket, but not to pick up passengers in those villages.
The result: a regular rip-off for which Phuket has become notorious worldwide. The island's attractions may keep people coming for a little longer, but Phuket's appeal is wearing thin in the face of the taxi-tuk-tuk scam and similar rip-offs.
Now the greed of the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers is growing and they are demanding monopoly commissions from retailers and tour operators and resorts. It's a grab that will eventually bust Phuket.
What's more alarming is the link between the taxi and tuk-tuk monopoly and the deaths and injuries inflicted on Phuket's own people on Phuket's roads.
Because Phuket people, like many tourists, also cannot afford the tuk-tuk and taxi fares, they are forced to ride on motorcycles. And so they die or are maimed, in large numbers.
The taxi and tuk-tuk monopoly will not let their own children ride in the relative safety of low cost, hop-on, hop-off buses.
A growing number of people on Phuket see the harm that this transport monopoly brings to the whole community and its future.
But a growing number of drivers also sign on for the easy money that being part of the tuk-tuk and taxi monopoly delivers.
A bus service would give Phuket's young people a chance to live a little longer without risking their lives on motorcycles.
It would also bring Phuket out of the age of village powerbrokers and into the modern international world, where people earn an honest living for a day's work, and where visitors are not seen solely as the target for easy rip-offs.
The good people of Phuket have not given up. The hope is that tomorrow's meeting will be another step towards enlightenment and 21st century reality for Phuket's misguided tuk-tuk and taxi drivers.