PHUKET: Taxi drivers on Phuket are slowly being persuaded that they need to accept a new, more efficient system, says Phuket Land Transport Chief Teerayut Prasertpon.
The central call centre telephone number is the key to future change, he says. Customers on Phuket can now call a cab by dialling 1584, or lodge a complaint via the same number.
And before long, Khun Teerayut hopes to have taxi groups in different parts of Phuket talking to each other about making pickups in rival districts.
After years of putting up with inflated prices and poor service, some expat residents appear to expect overnight miracles.
That was never going to happen. But Khun Teerayut says that all indications are positive, and the adoption of the new system has been complete at some ranks.
''Central Festival Phuket, for example, has fully converted to the new structure,'' he told Phuketwan. ''All the taxis there have signed on.
''In some of the other ranks, it will be a matter of time as they realise the system works to their advantage.''
Khun Teerayut said that in a Karon rank, for example, there might be three vehicles out of 30 now signed on for the new system.
''They are the cars who will be getting the calls from the central system to go to pick up customers,'' Khun Teeraut said.
''When the other drivers realise there is money to be made by signing on, they will sign on.''
The central Phuket call number offers customers the chance to complain or to call a cab by being specific about where on Phuket they need to be picked up.
While the first group of taxi registrations have been processed, Khun Teerayut there will be a second call for registration.
More raids will be carried out to push the taxi drivers who do not comply to heed the message that they need to sign up, or else.
''What the police at Tachatchai checkpoint have also discovered in that some drivers with a fleet of perhaps four or five cars have been trying to use the same paperwork for all their cars,'' he said.
''Of course, every vehicle has to be registered separately.''
He said the next major step will be when leaders from taxi groups that have traditionally been rivals are brought together to examine the advantages of picking up customers in each other's traditional territory.
As the central call system becomes more widely adopted, the commonsense in a Phuket-wide network becomes obvious.
Only with the adoption of a call centre does the concept of metered cabs also become realistic.
The present metered cabs cannot compete for income with the legal and illegal cabs because their fares do not cover the return journey by the empty taxi.
This accounts for metered taxi drivers preferring to turn off the meter, to charge a fare similar to the high rates asked by other cabbies.
Phuket International Airport presents special problems. An illegal group of 135 drivers have now signed on to the Mook Andaman group.
But the airport says there is only ''room'' for 50 taxies, so 25 will join each of the existing two taxi and limousine groups.
The lucky drivers will be those with the best cars, the ones most appropriate for the airport services.
But Khun Teerayut believes the airport system can be made to work more effectively if airport managers take over the operation and run it the way that the service is run at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.
''The concept of having small, controlled groups needs to go out the door,'' said Khun Teerayut. ''At Suvarnabhumi, the taxis queue in a sensible order and each gets a job eventually.
''The airport gets 50 baht per cab. If the numbers were done at Phuket International Airport, they will find the same system is a win-win situation all round.''
With the airport now being expanded, the timing is right for a taxi restructure.
And once the existing fares are cut in half - which they would be if taxis all over Phuket were allowed to pick up fares under a central call centre model - all of the tourists' criticism of Phuket's high fares would gradually disappear.
Making that central control centre number work is the key. If you need a taxi on Phuket, call 1584.