PHUKET: The long-awaited crackdown on Phuket's illegal taxis will begin on March 1 following breakthrough talks yesterday to legitimise hundreds of cabs.
An agreement reached yesterday paves the way for the number of registered green-plate taxis on Phuket to grow from 400 at present to 2882 by the end of February.
The talks, headed by Phuket Vice Governor Jamleran Tipayapongtada and Phuket Transport Director Terayout Prasertphol, brought a final, hard-won agreement from 10 banks and financial institutions.
Representatives of the 10 banks and institutions agreed in a meeting with 200 taxi drivers at Phuket's Amora Hotel in Cherng Talay to ease the financial burden on drivers so they can more easily convert vehicles being purchased privately to taxis.
Once the vehicles are registered as taxis they can, unlike private vehicles, be properly insured against injuries to passengers.
''It's the last barrier down,'' said Phuket's Transport Director Khun Terayout, awarded Phuketwan's
Phuket Person of the Year 2012 title for his ground-breaking work bringing legitimate taxis and a public bus network to Phuket.
''By March 1 we will have for the first time a list of the legal taxi operators on Phuket.''
Once the list is finalised, action can be taken to cap the number of taxis and put the illegal taxis off the streets.
Many of the taxis on Phuket are now on the way to obtaining green taxi number plates.
Some already carry decals listing the driver's name, the telephone number for complaints and the number that signifies the driver's place in a taxi rank.
From March 1, cabbies will also need a green numberplate to signify their legitimacy.
Yesterday's agreement means taxi drivers making time-payments to purchase vehicles will find it easier to meet the terms of the banks and finance institutions.
At least two manufacturers were also operating terms to allow drivers to convert present vehicles of less than 1500cc to 1500cc and above, the minimum engine capacity needed for a taxi.
The establishment of taxi call centres and the potential for metering vehicles become possible once taxi numbers are formally accepted and the registration process is agreed.
By some estimates, as many as 4000 legal and illegal taxis have been operating in Phuket's Patong west coast holiday hub without counting other centres.
Phuket tourists continue to complain, though, about having to pay for a return journey they do not take - which effectively doubles the Phuket fares of taxis and tuk-tuks.
Local village cartels of drivers have always denied the right of drivers from other village cartels to pick up other fares after dropping off passengers.
The result has benefitted drivers financially but put Phuket in a bad light when tourists strike comparisons with Bangkok and other destinations in Thailand.
Phuket also compares unfavorably in terms of provision of affordable public transport when compared to rival holiday destinations around the world.
Phuket residents are also forced to find alternative means of transport because of the extortionate fares demanded by taxi drivers.
The result: a large number of Phuket residents and visitors - particularly teenagers - die or are maimed in motorcycle crashes.