PHUKET: There is a solution to Phuket's taxi and tuk-tuk problems but it must come from Bangkok. It's apparent now that no answers will be coming from Phuket.
Phuket does not need more taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, legal or illegal. Phuket does not need more compromises, aimed at creating jobs for taxi or tuk-tuk drivers.
What Phuket needs is an island-wide call-centre based taxi and tuk-tuk system, a system just like tourist destinations and cities in the rest of the world already have. A system just like the one in Bangkok.
Tourists will continue complaining about the extortionate fares charged on Phuket, about the poor service and about the attitudes of the drivers just as long as the present rip-off system is tolerated.
The most unfair charge that tourists are obliged to pay is the cost of trips they don't take, when taxis and tuk-tuks return to their home queue with no passengers in them.
The tourist - sucker that he or she is - is charged double the fare they should be charged because the drivers have to go back to some other part of Phuket without being allowed to pick up a fare.
The traditional Phuket village rivalries that did not allow a driver from one village to pick up a fare in another have been maintained, despite logic and commonsense.
Driving a taxi or a tuk-tuk on Phuket is viewed by the island's young men as an effortless way to earn a living. That's because the fares are extortionately high.
That's because the authorities have always caved in to the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. Why would the drivers ever look for other jobs? Driving is relatively easy, and it pays well.
That's why there are many more taxis and tuk-tuks than Phuket needs. That's why, the governor's meeting heard yesterday, there are at least 2800 illegal cabs operating on Phuket, as well as thousands now registered.
What should happen is for a limit to be placed on the number of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers on Phuket, a limit based on the number required under a modern call-centre system.
Groups of legal and illegal taxi and tuk-tuk drivers have been ensuring their positions are maintained in a monopoly system for years now - at the expense of tourists and residents. Phuket deserves low-cost public transport.
Now yet another meeting is to take place next week, overseen by the governor, and it's aimed at shoring up the power of the drivers' collectives.
Perhaps the message from Europe's ambassadors about the taxis and tuk-tuks has not been conveyed properly.
Perhaps the rip-off that is always involved whenever a taxi or a tuk-tuk makes a journey empty, with the fare paid, isn't fully understood.
Or perhaps authorities remain in the grip of this monopoly that selfishly takes what it can for its brotherhood at the expense of the rest of the Phuket community.
For Phuket to prosper as a tourist destination for much longer, the island needs a call-centre based system and a reduced number of taxis and tuk-tuks.
Phuket does not need one more taxi or tuk-tuk. It needs a whole lot less taxis and tuk-tuks.
It needs a plan for retraining taxi and tuk-tuk drivers in other jobs. It needs a rational approach. It needs someone who is capable of saying ''Enough.''
All official action needs to be directed at reducing the number of illegal and legal taxis and tuk-tuks on Phuket and introducing a call centre system. The Governor should say ''Enough'' at next week's meeting.