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Phuket tourists pay a double fare, for a journey they don't take

Phuket Must Not Give in to Tuk-Tuk and Taxi Drivers: Stop Holding Tourism Hostage

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
News Analysis: Brave Enough to Change Phuket

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.

That much became plain yesterday when Phuket Governor Maitree Intrusud told a group of illegal tuk-tuk drivers at Phuket Provincial Hall in Phuket City that he would do what he could to help make them legal.

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.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Starting to get exasperated Ed?

Posted by sir burr on July 3, 2013 12:09

Editor Comment:

Logic always wins in the end.


It does not matter for the public at large if the tuk tuks and taxsi are legal or illegal as all Phuket residents are xaiting is to have a public transport service all over Phuket as well all tuk tuks and taxis with metered meters.
That's it. FULL STOP.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on July 3, 2013 12:16

Editor Comment:

Metered cabs won't come without a call centre.


Easy solution, don't go to Phuket, go to Pattaya where they have a fair and just system with their baht buses!

Posted by steve on July 3, 2013 12:22


Great article and bang on. Its very obvious that Government officials here on Phuket neither have the will, determination, or b**ls to tackle the key issues plaguing a once amazing paradise.

The only way i see Phuket moving forward is if Bangkok intervene directly and tackle these issues head on bypassing Governors and Assts.

Posted by Ciaran on July 3, 2013 13:03


Editor Comment;
Logic always wins in the end.

Not in T/land ...''logic'' does not exist in Thai..
Mr ed you can make as many statements as you like, your little input may help, but the facts are that you will still be saying the same things in 5 years time.

No logic=no change.

Posted by mal on July 3, 2013 13:07


Well well well, seems that Ed is finally accepting what many readers have been saying, for a very long time. Theoptimus has now became a pessimist and realises that the Gov is a dead loss and many things won't change if left in the hands of Phuket authorities.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on July 3, 2013 14:57

Editor Comment:

I am not, never have been and never will be a pessimist, Phuket_IOC. There is no point to pessimism because, as you have probably already been told, pessimists and tuk-tuk and taxi drivers share the same outlook: there's no need for change. Nor do I read opinions or mood swings into articles that aren't there.


These buggers make a baht without moving their own butt. They are killing tourism faster than TAT can promote it.

Posted by Graham on July 3, 2013 15:03


Good article Ed..I agree Bangkok needs to step in however, Bangkok is either getting their palms greased to stay out or they just don't have the courage to do it and would rather let phuket deal with its own problems.

Posted by sky on July 3, 2013 15:24


It's been obvious that the solution is not going to come from Phuket for at least 5 years already but I'm pleased to see PW has also finally realized this.

Should vindicate a few readers previously lambasted here for daring to be so negative.

Those in power view Phuket as their very own cookie jar and resist any "outside" interference. Outside being anything across the Sarasin Bridge, regardless of nationality.

Don't mess with our rice bowl -mentality.

When Phuket has been bled dry, they can move elsewhere with their "unusual wealth" as can we expats (minus the wealth of course) but what are the common Phuket people supposed to do then ?

Posted by ThaiMike on July 3, 2013 17:01

Editor Comment:

I'm no less positive than before and long ago acknowledged that pressure would have to come from Bangkok to achieve change when it comes to the taxis and tuk-tuks.

This has been fully understood by all those involved for quite a while. We reported the process of issues being passed to Bangkok and tuk-tuks and taxis was the first.

Readers who side with the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers by saying ''Nothing is going to change'' will continue to be derided for their appalling judgement.


Ed Your call center idea is fine but it is myopic, and only half the story. Any other city in the world/asia hasthe following:
- meter taxis freely driving around and available for business/flagging down
- taxi ranks of meter taxis
- call centers

The operative concept is always "meter taxis", and not any form of fixed rates for certain specified journeys as under the present system. That needs scrapped. Call centres is only one part of the solution. Put in meters and the taxis will find you. Call centers will help manage metered taxis. It stands out like doggies.

Posted by poiuy on July 3, 2013 18:13

Editor Comment:

A call centre is the most urgent and essential part of a workable system for Phuket. Meters can be turned off. A call centre can't be turned off.


Since there is no end to the debate, and the Tuk Tuk "mafia" most likely wouldn't sanitate itself; why not regulate the taxi business on Phuket. Meaning that the government first revokes all taxi/tuk tuk licenses, and then issue new ones. Regulating the number of licenses to the actual estimated need of the area where the licenseholder operates. And why not, whilst at it, regulating the fares to a fair maximum... Fair to both the taxi operator but also to the customers. Doing that the bad reputation according taxi fares Phuket earned would soon be repaired.

Posted by Swede from Malmo on July 4, 2013 01:16


A call centre is a good idea. And worth pursuing, but needs to be driven by those in power and we all hope (and dream) they will one day support and drive the idea.

However, let's not assume the BKK system works. It does and it doesn't. The call centres (there are a number, each owned by that taxi company), have reached the point where they are often too busy to answer the phone, and in many cases (personal experience) when a taxi is booked, it doesn't turn up. And when it's raining... then it's game over.

Not being pessimistic, call centres are definitely worth pursuing, but a cure-all perhaps they are not.

Posted by Duncan on July 4, 2013 10:25


Pity the Lone Ranger is only at the movies. Phuket needs it's own real live ranger to sort out the ills on this island.

Posted by DuncanB on July 4, 2013 14:11


"A call center can not be turned off," sorry to burst you little bubble, but they certainly can be, dare you to debate me on this one (29 years as telecommunications technician) the other way to "bypass" a call centre running fairly is of course paying graft to a centre manager or operator.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on July 4, 2013 19:17

Editor Comment:

Perhaps I should have written: ''A call centre can't be turned off the way a meter can be turned off.'' But it didn't seem necessary.


I fail to understand all this talk about a call centre, in relation to taxi meters. A call centre does NOT control the meters, it is only there to distribute "fares" to the taxis, hopefully in a fair even way. Even WITH a call centre the meters are still under the control of the driver. What really is needed is something similar to Australia, and I suspect in other countries, is a Taxi Control Board, this board licences the taxis and drivers, is also responsible for disciplinary action against the driver, who can be fined, suspended or have his/her licence cancelled. Under law, an illegal taxi driver is fined, heavily, and/or jailed, for numerous reasons, as we have already seen, this can FAIL on Phuket. NOTHING on Phuket will ever succeed until there is a Government willing, or forced, to do its duty.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on July 5, 2013 07:34

Editor Comment:

I am not advocating meters. The call centre is the Phuket solution, with or without meters. As I've already said, all tuk-tuk and taxi drivers should have to reapply for licences, with the emphasis on training and service, and the numbers of drivers being reduced by 30 percent over three years. There should be a reducing cap on cab numbers. Nothing else will work - and if the economy turns sour before this is done, there will be a social problem caused by drivers with no work or income.


Fully agree with Phuket_IOC.

A call center does nothing to solve the problem of meters not being used. It makes no difference how a taxi is located. Hail it down, have the driver grab your shirt on the sidewalk or have it sent by a call center.

If the meter is turned on and it's usage enforced like Phuket_IOC suggests, customer pays only for the ride he takes.

Where the taxi came from or where it's going to afterwards is irrelevant.

When meter usage is strictly enforced, everything else will fall in place automatically. The tribal practice of allowing only their own drivers to pick up rides in their "territory" will have to be abolished. Put the ball into their court and force them to face the facts or go bust.

To have 50% of the current taxis on Phuket roads disappear would only be a positive development anyway. Phuket cannot sustain 5000 taxis. A reasonable number in a city of 500.000 is around 1500 if one looks at statistics around the world.

How is it any better if I get an illegal, uninsured taxi that charges me 3x the normal fare by calling it in instead of just flagging one down ?

Insisting on a call center before enforcing a strict usage of meters is tantamount to putting the cart in front of the Ox.

It should be the 3rd step after enforcing meter usage and making sure all taxis are legal and comply with all rules and regulations.

Posted by ThaiMike on July 5, 2013 11:32

Editor Comment:

Meters not being used is not the problem. Enforcement? You're joking. The problem is tourists being charged double - for a trip they don't make. Meters won't be used until the whole operation changes into a functional one - using a call centre. If drivers have the choice of using a meter or negotiating a fare, fine. But the unpaid for trip is the rip-off. And the way to do it is to introduce a call-centre and relicence all the drivers on the understanding that the operation must change. Your obsession with meters won't get Phuket from A to B at a fair fare. A call centre will. I don't have time for more on this issue.


Can someone PLEASE explain to me, how a "call centre" is the "solution" to Phuket's taxi/tuk tuk problems. I can already pick up my phone and call a legal or illegal taxi/tuk tuk and that is ALL a "call centre" would be doing, except they "should" only be calling "legal" taxis/tuk tuks and with a little graft and village loyalty, give more fares to they friends, relatives and village people.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on July 5, 2013 12:59

Editor Comment:

Please read what's been written on the topic and then give it some real thought. Meters are a diversion introduced by Westerners with no understanding of the issue.
Meters not being used is not the problem. Enforcement? You're joking. The problem is tourists being charged double - for a trip they don't make. Meters won't be used until the whole operation changes into a functional one - using a call centre. If drivers have the choice of using a meter or negotiating a fare, fine. But the unpaid for trip is the rip-off. And the way to do it is to introduce a call-centre and relicence all the drivers on the understanding that the operation must change. Your obsession with meters won't get Phuket from A to B at a fair fare. A call centre will. I don't have time for more on this issue.


As usual, you are utterly unwilling to entertain any suggestions other than yours.

Metered taxis are hardly "my obsession". They are used in virtually every nation that has taxis.

I presented another point of view and backed it up with facts, statistics and logical reasoning. You state your opinions as if they are solid facts needing no explanation.

The solution to this problem, as to countless other Phuket problems is LAW ENFORCEMENT. Something Phuket simply does not have so it's time it is imported from BKK to the island.

Posted by ThaiMike on July 5, 2013 16:42

Editor Comment:

Law enforcement has yet to work with taxis and tuk-tuks and somehow, you and a couple of others think (a) meters are a magic wand and (b) enforcers will wave it. I have delivered a strategy based on what's possible, not fairyland stuff. Enough, this is pointless.

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