PHUKET: Enforcement by Phuket's Governor and local councils will be the key to whether the crackdown on Phuket's taxis succeeds in giving the holiday island a better system, controversial Patong businessman Prab Keesin said last night.
Khun Prab, who has for years attempted to lift the standards of taxis and tuk-tuks in Patong, was speaking after a meeting in Kata-Karon left many feeling optimistic about change - if only more local resorts show some courage.
''I'd say the crackdown has been 70 percent successful and the rest will be in the hands of the governor, the councils and local police,'' said Khun Prab, son of former Patong Mayor Pian Keesin.
''We've seen so many governors and police chiefs come and go over the years, each with their own ideas, but mostly there has been confusion and lack of consistency.''
Khun Prab wants to see tests applied to winnow the layabouts from the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers who sincerely want to work.
The Patong businessman emerged to talk to the media in Phuket City last night about potential outcomes in advance of the Patong push under the crackdown that has already seen scores of Phuket drivers and resident blockaders charged.
Region 8 police aim to keep up their surprise bid to change Phuket's culture until the island has obliterated the gangs who used intimidation and extortion to create power and excessively high fares for themselves.
There is probably no other place in the world where taxi drivers charge so much for doing so little - and for years they've gotten away with it by applying malicious muscle in blockades and threatening behavior.
''It's a social problem,'' said Khun Prab, who has immersed himself for several years in the tuk-tuk and taxi culture and introduced simple reforms and cohesion in Patong.
''The authorities must establish international standards and rules of behavior and only those drivers who accept the rules should be licenced to operate.
''Once the task force goes home, it will be up to the Governor, the mayors and the local police. What are they going to do? Enforce the rules, or compromise?
''All of them need to show their professionalism. Or will they simply kick the ball in the air, as they always have done in the past on so many issues, and let someone else try to control the problem when it hits the ground?''
He said the crackdown was ''70 percent complete'' and the element of surprise had worked well when the task force of 1150 soldiers, police and volunteers began making arrests unexpectedly a week ago today.
All 10 of Phuket's police stations were represented at a meeting at Kata-Karon council offices yesterday.
So were about 60 resorts, along with transport officials, Phuket Governor Maitree Intrusud and Vice Governor Jamleran Tipayapongtada.
As usual, though, the resorts showed a lack of courage. Only a handful of the 60 resorts were represented by owners or senior managers. One resort even sent along a receptionist.
Instead of there being an open debate about the issue, most resort reps sat and listened, with the exception of two or three wise owners who wish to see the taxis' needless collateral damage to Phuket's tourism industry ended.
Basically, many of Phuket's west coast resorts are conditioned by prosperity to self-interest and have no concept of being involved in local decision-making. (Perhaps Region 8 police should consider raiding the resorts next, and knocking a few heads together.)
Selfishness seems to be endemic in the Kata-Karon district, where Karon Police Station Superintendent Colonel Natpakin Kawnchaiyapuk yesterday set out the plan to clear the taxis and tuk-tuks from blocking the district's roads and ending entrenched thuggery.
Taxis will only be allowed to park in 20 to 30 spots around Kata-Karon, with just two taxis at a time in each spot, he said.
Each of the taxi parking stations would be 500 metres apart.
Other taxis would park in a holding area, to be established by the local council, and called in as required by a controller with a walkie talkie.
Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers who continue to think that their own taxi-only painted yellow lines on the roadways have any significance will face severe action by police, the colonel said.
The meeting was told that resorts have the option of absorbing two or three taxi drivers if they chose, but the process will make the drivers part of the resort's ''family'' and oblige them to adopt the resort's uniform and service mentality.
''We are going to eradicate the on-street taxi stands,'' Colonel Natpakin said.
''The Karon district had 54 stands and 36 have been taken away. Do not imagine that the others will survive. Thirteen of them block the footpath and will be removed.
''The others are on private land and the drivers carry their chairs with them.''
Phuketwan has suggested that a calculation should be made of the number of taxis needed on Phuket once a pickup-anywhere system is introduced and fares have been cut in half to obliterate the rip-off of passengers paying for the journey they don't make, back to base.
With the need for drivers substantially reduced, alternative job training should be offered to genuine Phuket people who want to continue to support their families.