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Phuket's Port to Patong Shuttle Rolls With Taxi and Tuk-Tuk Fares Still 'Negotiable'

Friday, May 31, 2013
PHUKET: Shuttle buses began carrying US warship crews between Phuket's deep sea port and the west coast holiday hub of Patong again last night.

The return of the shuttle buses followed talks between Glenn Marine Services and a Phuket bus group that settled a financial dispute.

Until both parties are completely satisfied, Phuket east coast taxi group boss Narong Kumbaan has undertaken to organise both the buses and the taxis travelling to and from the Ao Makham deep sea port.

A stop-work by bus drivers in the dispute this week led to US service men and women being stranded without a shuttle service, forcing many to pay even higher fares than normal in Phuket taxis and tuk-tuks.

An official US reaction is anticipated to American crew becoming the innocent ripped-off victims of the dispute.

Phuket's administration guaranteed the Embassy after a taxi blockade in 2011 that such an event would never happen again.

The visit by the USS Nimitz marks the fifth time in three years that US aircraft carriers have anchored off Phuket, delivering a huge boost to the Phuket region's economy.

With the US presence at sea in Andaman likely to increase, any disruption to US Navy's good relationship with Phuket carries huge potential economic consequences.

US Embassy officials had been involved in resolving the bus shuttle dispute, Embassy Press Attache Walter Braunohler said today.

''Phuket visits mean a great deal to our sailors,'' he said. ''And hopefully they will for years to come.''

Whether heading on a mission or returning from one, Mr Braunohler said, ''they love coming to Phuket and to Thailand.''

Khun Narong, who is also the village leader for the district around the port, told Phuketwan earlier this week that all taxi fares from the port were negotiable.

A Phuketwan reader complained this week that one cruise ship passenger had been asked for $200 for the one-way trip between the port and Patong.

US sailors confirmed that extortionate taxi and tuk-tuk fares rose to new highs of around $200 during the shuttle bus dispute.

A system where taxis operate under a set fee scale and take passengers anywhere around the island to the set scale is likely to be discussed when US Embassy officials meet Phuket administrators next month.

The meeting is scheduled for June 20, a few days after European Union Ambassadors hold a seminar on Phuket and are briefed about Phuket's extortionate taxis and tuk-tuks, along with other tourism issues.

China's Ambassador Guan Mu publicly declared at a meeting with Phuket administrators this week that Phuket's problems - including corrupt police and Immigration officials - need to be fixed quickly if Phuket wishes to continue greeting Chinese tourists.

The Phuket Navy League is organising a casual farewell party for USS Nimitz officers and crew from 6pm tonight at the Stoned Crab Pub in Rawai, southern Phuket.

Free travel in tuk-tuks and taxis to the event would seem reasonable under the circumstances. But it's not likely.

The USS Nimitz weighs anchor and leaves Phuket early tomorrow.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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US$200 = approx 6000 baht; I could take a taxi from Bangkok to Korat & back (>500 km) for that amount including a very generous tip. These people have no shame whatsoever & need to be reined in. GREED.

Posted by Logic on May 31, 2013 13:17

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Ok. That is now too late, but there are some nice "airport" painted buses around, why not use them as shuttle from the deep sea tiny port. Ahh... I forgot, then hundreds of local families will starve.

Phuket being ridiculed by the transport mafia. Now and forever?

Posted by Lena on May 31, 2013 13:54

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Having lived in Thailand a long time what's new? The taxis are all told to register so many do with their name on the side of the car and a complaints number. Great so everyone feels better, but still no fare meters and fares are "flexible" But then we hear there are still "black" plate taxis and many of them - so we go around full circle. People do a lot of talking here in Phuket but at the end of the day it is run by the local tuks and taxis, well transport that is. Anyone who thinks that the Ambassadors or the local Thai govt or even the BKK government can change that should get a new set of eye glasses and see the real world. It will still be the same for years to come. Airport bus service promised last minute meetings........now historeeeeeeeeeee.

Posted by Lost In Translation on May 31, 2013 15:17

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Quote: An official US reaction is anticipated to American crew becoming the innocent ripped-off victims of the dispute.

This is clearly and completely the opinion of Phuket Wan, not a the perspective of the US government or Navy and its sailors. How about doing some actual (objective) reporting, and ask the sailors what they think (not tell them what you think they should think!)

Posted by Educated reader on May 31, 2013 15:53

Editor Comment:

What you should do, Educated reader, is hold a referendum and allow everybody on the island, including the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, to vote on whether the the sailors are innocent ripped-off victims or not. Please tell us the result.
The sentence is not opinion. It's fact.

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Narong Kumbaan, Phu Yai of MaKham Village and leader of the taxi group there , and Aree Kumbaan, an owner of Blue Sea Tours - a shuttle bus company, that suddenly stated that Glenn Marine is in arrears 5.5M THB for past October and the current service. Any questions here!? I laughed long..

Posted by SUe on May 31, 2013 19:02

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not the first time us navy been treated shabbily here same high prices different excuses last time was a blockade sooner or later they will say enough,where else in the world is the us navy stood over by taxi drivers.

Posted by slickmelb on May 31, 2013 19:05

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The US navy should vote with their feet and go elsewhere. Also, the US embassy should protest at the highest level, and draw Bangkok's attention yet again to the situation on Phuket.
It really is high time this system was changed.

Posted by jimbo34 on May 31, 2013 20:43

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It's a real shame and travesty that those living here have to apologise repeatedly for the head scratching actions of these 'mindless mobs' and repeated acts of shear lunacy towards Naval visits over the years will at some stage soon, I fear, finally bring just rewards to the greedy, blinkered minority with the majority of power here! I can only hope the Comserve projects were undertaken without impact, and that the US Navy are prepared to re-visit in the near future without holding the honest, appreciative residents of Phuket responsible for the lawless nature of local Mafia and their negative influence on decent folk here

Posted by Anonymous on May 31, 2013 21:05

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@Ed: what's happening to you? Are you feeling well? The reason for asking is that there is a comment here with the word mafia, and as far as i remember, you used to react like a panicking one winged bird that is trying to leave it's nest. So, do you agree now that the tuk tuk gang are mafioso, or did you simply forget to bash the words of Anonymous? I remember that you like the word monopoly, instaed of mafia.

Posted by charles on May 31, 2013 21:50

Editor Comment:

Phuket's taxi system is a monopoly. I can't imagine the US Navy delivering its personnel into the arms of a ''mafia.'' Mafioso are brutal people, capable of just about anything. Mafioso probably cut the other wing off your one-winged bird. Even monopolies can be unhealthy.

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@Charles, Ed being a journalist, seems to reject the definition of "mafia," even though it is clearly stated, in English in dictionaries, he chooses to use HIS definition. Strange man.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on June 1, 2013 09:20

Editor Comment:

Mafia: a hierarchically structured secret organization allegedly engaged in smuggling, racketeering, trafficking in narcotics, and other criminal activities in the US, Italy, and elsewhere.

Strange reader. Your choice of dictionaries is just one of your problems, Phuket_IOC. Journalists believe in being fair and balanced, and Phuket's taxi and tuk-tuk drivers are not and never have been ''mafia.'' It's a word the tabloids love because, like ''mob,'' it sucks in the ignorant, and it fits easily in headlines. It also creates needless rancor beyond the key issue - the taxi and tuk-tuk monopoly. It's a word misused by many to encourage hatred.

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Oxford dictionary
(mafia) a closed group of people in a particular field, having a controlling influence:
.." eg the conservative top tennis mafia"


Random House Webster's College Dictionary:

(mafia) Any inflential clique

Posted by stu on June 1, 2013 10:30

Editor Comment:

These are secondary meanings, stu, based on serial misuse. (top tennis mafia . . . really? So it's a gentle word?) Please quote the prime meaning. Otherwise I will be forced to accuse you are distorting the facts to suit your fallacious argument. (And no, I did not mean fellatios).

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@ED, secondary meaning or not, makes no difference, it is still acceptable usable, acceptable, except by you. I think you have a problem in not accepting that you are human and can be wrong.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on June 1, 2013 15:51

Editor Comment:

Misuse the word enough and it loses its true meaning. As stu notes, ''mafia'' can be, according to his dictionary, even a harmless group of tennis players. I am in favor of maintaining the meaning of words. You are in favor of their misuse. You are probably even a member of the comment ''mafia.''

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@Ed, as a member of the "comment mafia", nice to see you allow yourself to use the word, I suggest you take your crusade to the publishers of dictionaries, I would also suggest you extend your crusade to ALL words/terms that are used and accepted, but have changed their meaning over time, eg sick or wicked, meaning good (ask the younger generation)

Posted by Phuket_IOC on June 2, 2013 09:10

Editor Comment:

You want to use ''mafia'' to indicated that the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers are evil. Yet the word ''mafia'' no longer means what you want it to mean. I agree that words are adapted through misuse - and diminished in that process. Thank you for providing another reason why ''mafia'' isn't appropriate. ''Monopoly'' remains accurate. That's why we prefer it.

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From herein you may refer to the previous mafia/monopoly as the
Thai Cosa Nostra (English translation our thing) and the taxi tuk tuk drivers union rabble are sure doing there thing.

Posted by slickmelb on June 3, 2013 01:42

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Calling the taxi and tuk-tuk groups merely a monopoly omits the crucial fact that these monopolies are maintained through corruption, intimidation and violence.

A monopoly is in general perceived to be legal, albeit undesirable. Take for instance alcohol sales in many countries.

I don't know what to call them but with the criminal element undeniably involved, illegal cartel sounds more accurate.

If anyone can come up with a better name/description, please step up to the plate.

Fact is though that most Thais refer to them as Mafia.

Posted by ThaiMike on June 3, 2013 11:48

Editor Comment:

There is nothing illegal about these monopolies, nor is there any evidence of the murderous violence associated with the real Mafia. As other readers have pointed out, the word ''mafia'' is now so abused it can be used to describe local knitting circles. Widespread misuse of the word simply makes the truth about the tuk-tuks and taxis less clear. It's a monopoly.

monopoly: exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices.

cartel: an international syndicate, combine, or trust formed especially to regulate prices and output in some field of business.

mafia: a hierarchically structured secret organization allegedly engaged in smuggling, racketeering, trafficking in narcotics, and other criminal activities in the US, Italy, and elsewhere.

And by the way, how would you know what ''most Thais'' say or think? Have you done a national census? Please provide details.

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I can only speak from my own experiences. I thought it was obvious and did not need to be specifically highlighted.

Most of the Thais ! I HAVE ! spoken with refer to them as "Mafia". These are the common people. I have no contact with the authorities or "influential people" who I'm sure would prefer not to use that word for various different reasons and interests.

In your line of work you will likely meet and talk to a lot of them, thus your experiences are different from mine.

Neither negates the other. No census needed.

In case you missed it, I did not nor have not referred to them as mafia.

Monopolies are legal.

Cartel does not need to be international but many are. OPEC is a good, legal example. Anti-Cartel laws govern both domestic and international cartels.

Monopoly is one group or organization controlling the market, a cartel is many groups or organizations coming together to do the same. There are certainly more than just one group controlling the Phuket transport industry and the meeting where these different groups gathered to set prices together underscores the fact that it's a cartel, not just a single-group controlled monopoly.

Nothing illegal ? I beg to differ.

Start with illegal taxis, commonly called "black plate" (Pai dam). Mook Andaman group has been in the headlines lately and they openly admit being illegal taxi operators.

Several incidents of one taxi group members stopping, blockading and even removing drivers from vehicles and beating them up sure sounds pretty much illegal to me too.

Illegal blockades of roads, recently beach road in Karon. Police confirmed such action to be illegal and staged by these taxi groups.

Intimidation

Threats of illegal blockades openly aired in local media. Anyone trying to park in a legal parking spot these drives have claimed their own will get a first hand taste of intimidation.

I don't know about you but the way I see it their illegality is pretty much in my face anywhere I look.

Perhaps I need to borrow someone's rose-tinted glasses to correct my vision.

Posted by ThaiMike on June 3, 2013 14:01

Editor Comment:

It's about time you stopped making assumptions, ThaiMike. Only ignorant people do that. If you don't understand and accept the difference between saying 'Most Thais i have met'' and ''most Thais,'' then everything you say needs to be treated with caution. As for your assumptions about who we talk to . . . we began more than five years ago with the intention of reporting the reality of Phuket and correcting the ''misthinkers.'' We're not sure what your glasses are covered in, but it looks like cow dung and it stops you from seeing the world as it really is. And that's sad for you.

Mook Andaman is not part of the monopoly. Nor are those on the fringes who are still illegal. Most of the taxis are legal or on their way to being legal - that much ''progress'' has been made.

The illegal actions of individuals within the monopoly are likely to be decried by most members of the monopoly, which is why it's wrong to assume that misbehavior and crime is a characteristic of the whole. That's why use of the word ''mafia'' is wrong.

if there are Thai people for whom you claim to speak, perhaps you should stand for election.

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You are not in a position to tell me what I should or should not do. Just as I'm not here to tell you either.

I didn't say I don't understand the difference. I said I thought it was so obvious it did not need to be highlighted. Don't twist my words.

I see things the way I do and you see them your way. Just because mine differs from yours doesn't mean either of them is invalid. Resorting to personal insults is unprofessional.

I will call them illegal cartels and PW will apparently call them monopolies. Others, including Thais are free to call them whatever they want, even if you don't want them to.

PS.

What do you call the action of the driver a licensed, metered taxi who refuses to turn on the meter ?

There are about 50 of them at PIA and they refuse to use the meter. A well reported fact.

I don't see anyone within that "monopoly" "decrying" this activity.

Do you ?

Posted by ThaiMike on June 3, 2013 15:55

Editor Comment:

We'd prefer readers to get their facts straight, Mike. A cartel has to be ''international'' and cartels are usually grouped under an overweening body, as you've suggested in your example.

There is no overall body for the tuk-tuks and the taxis on Phuket. It's a monopoly.

A driver who refuses to turn on the meter is a driver who has grown frustrated with getting a bum deal, waiting for the rest to change, so he's simply decided to behave as the other taxi drivers have behaved and earn similar amounts, not less.

The metered taxis are a sideshow issue - and they're going backwards because of the lack of action on the whole taxi issue. The fact there's no reaction proves it's not a cartel. It's a monopoly.

Stating spurious arguments then blaming the editor because you've got it wrong won't get you far. We wish readers would convert to being professional and we will propose a licencing scheme shortly, with metres.

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Have you taken a poll among the metered taxi drivers to know what they think and say ?

This is the type of argumentation you use. I think it's neither constructive nor fair but it can just as easily be turned around to you.

It also undermines the valid point of view a reader, or in this case you the Editor, have.

I do agree with your assumption that's most likely what the drivers think and feel but it's not a fact and you are now equally "guilty" of what you just accused me of.

See how petty it is ? Waste of time and effort.

Let me rephrase my question.

Is the refusal of a metered, licensed taxi driver to use the meter legal or illegal ?

QED.

How do you conclude a cartel needs to be international ? First I've ever heard. Please educate me.

Monopoly, as the word " mono" itself already defines - is a single body/party situation.

There are several different taxi organizations on Phuket, thus it can't be a monopoly, or duopoly either.

Despite several of these organizations meeting together to set prices and "rules of conduct", as reported in the media, you don't think it's a cartel ? Then I guess we must both be wrong.

Whatever label one wishes to slap on it, it's appallingly unjustified, incredibly frustrating and the impotence of local authorities in this matter is perhaps the best example of vested interests and of how deeply entrenched corruption on Phuket is.

Posted by ThaiMike on June 3, 2013 16:42

Editor Comment:

We don't make assumptions, unprofessional readers do.

Our reporters talk to people, including taxi drivers, on Phuket on a daily basis. (I waste a lot of time I don't have talking to some who distort the facts).

The definition of cartel includes the word ''international'' and you cited OPEC as an example. You have failed to cite a non-international example without a centralised body that has any relevance to Phuket

The actions of individual drivers do not make the monopoly illegal. Nor does not turning on the meter constitute the actions of a ''mafia''.

No point in argument for the sake of it. I won't waste my time on readers who can't sort fact from fiction.


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