PHUKET: About 10,000 illegal and legal taxis operate on Phuket, a meeting looking at tourist rip-offs on Phuket heard today.
Biggest cause of problems associated with tuk-tuks on Phuket was caused by drivers who rent the tuk-tuks and do not behave as well as owner-drivers, the meeting was told.
And the greed of Airports of Thailand by charging taxis and limousines excessively high rents was one prime reason why Phuket's reputation among tourists was suffering, the gathering at Provincial Hall in Phuket City heard.
Taxi, limousine and tuk-tuk groups joined today's meeting. With Vice Governor Jamleran Tipayapongtada in the chair, influential Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit sat in as an observer.
He reminded people at the gathering that criticism from tourists about public transport on Phuket had often reached the Thai Royal Police in Bangkok as well as the Foreign Ministry.
Phuket desperately needed proper public transport, especially with tourist numbers continuing to rise, he said.
The smaller tourism destination of Khao Lak in neighboring Phang Nga, Khun Prompong's home province, had had similar problems with illegal cabs.
The 200 illegal taxis in Khao Lak had agreed to become properly registered, he said. Phuket's problem now needed to be resolved in the same way, he said.
''The problem is there are people on Phuket who want to make money from business connected to tourism, but are not prepared to conform to industry standards,'' he said.
Aroon Sooksai, president of one of Phuket's nine transport cooperatives, said his coop members all paid tax and followed the law, but the same could not be said for the 10,000 illegal and legal taxis he estimated were now operating on Phuket. There were another 1000 tuk-tuks, he said.
Khun Aroon said it often seemed that his members, despite being legal, were targetted more often by police than the illegal cabs.
Thai law also meant that the 600 side-entry tuk-tuks were illegal, he said. Vehicles were supposed to have rear entry.
Phuket's tuk-tuk owner-drivers posed few problems, he said, but the drivers who rented tuk-tuks for between 500 baht and 800 baht a day had no scruples and were sometimes desperate for cash to make ends meet.
[An Australian tourist told recently of being punched in the face by a tuk-tuk driver in Patong who was not interested in negotiating his high initial fare downwards.]
An airport limousine representative said rents at Phuket International Airport were raised by 10 percent a year and each of the 180 limousines at the airport had to find 13,000 baht a month for rent.
A spokesperson for Mai Khao Limousines, which also operates at the airport, said the 110 drivers paid rent every month and also had to pay additional fees.
When former Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob tried to negotiate lower rents with AoT on behalf of the drivers, only a small and almost insignificant discount was achieved.
Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation President Paiboon Upatising said: ''Phuket's biggest problem with tourism is its high cost and the airport monopoly is one of the reason for that.
''When a metered taxi takes a passenger to Patong for 500 to 600 baht, the cabbie cannot pick up a fare and has to return empty. And when the taxi re-enters the airport, the driver will have to pay a 50 baht fee.
''Airports of Thailand uses Phuket to make money but gives nothing back,'' he said. [Phuket airport is, like Suvarnasbhumi International Airport in Bangkok, well behind in terms of expansion planning.]
Khun Paiboon said he did not agree with AoT raising its rents for taxis and limos by 10 percent every year.
''All AoT staff are granted a bonus equal to nine months of their salaries every year,'' he said. ''If AoT wishes to prove its sincerity in helping the Phuket tourism industry, perhaps AoT should reduce the scale of those bonuses. Three months would be plenty.''
Sarayuth Mallam, of the Phuket Tourism Association, said that AoT's attitude was having a detrimental effect on Phuket tourism.
''Most people in business on Phuket are well behaved,'' he said. ''Only a few groups and individuals are damaging tourism.
''I travel to road shows all round the world on behalf of Phuket and the question most people ask is: when can we sort the problems out?''