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Ticking timebomb: Phuket airport taxi rank, with chaos looming

Phuket Transport Chaos: Taxis Plot Airport Blockade

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Phuketwan UPDATE

THAI stocks fell 1.39 percent yesterday amid reports that red-shirted supporters of disgraced premier Thaksin Shinawatra could rally at Bangkok's international airport next week. Business leaders and analysts say even a peaceful protest at Suvarnabhumi could be ''national suicide.''

Phuketwan News and Analysis

PHUKET'S Provincial Hall faces an invasion of 150 limousine and taxi drivers and their families on Wednesday as the island's transport system descends into chaos.

If Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob or other authorities fail to agree to drivers' demands, the drivers' next step will be to blockade Phuket's airport, a local mayor who is the brother of one senior limousine group leader told Phuketwan tonight.

Talk of a blockade to prevent tourists arriving and departing the island poses the most direct and potentially damaging threat to the tourism industry on Phuket and in Thailand since the 2008 airport blockades.

For years, officials have ignored or been complicit in the scams, the extortion and and the corruption that are the hallmarks of Phuket's tourist transport.

To blockade Provincial Hall and then the airport would be the last straw, making the need for a low-cost and efficient public transport system on Phuket obvious, even to reluctant government officials.

Phuketwan has repeatedly called for national government intervention to sort out Phuket's long-standing public transport woes. If the blockade goes ahead tomorrow, we suspect we will get our wish.

Already Phuket's tuk-tuk monopoly and excessive, extortionate fares are provoking anger among tourists and the island's expat community.

If the airport drivers protest as planned on Wednesday, they will alienate the entire tourist industry - and Thailand's government.

Any kind of blockade of the airport is clearly overstepping the mark. A successful invasion and blockade of Provincial Hall would be a clear indication that the tuk-tuk, taxi and limousine drivers run Phuket, not the island's legitimate administrators.

Wednesday's mass protest at 9am is expected to be mounted by drivers who are disappointed at a decision to add permits for 30 more vehicles at the airport.

The permits will all go to one company, although three companies have concessions at the airport. Protesting drivers say it would have been fairer to add 10 permits for each, rather that 30 for a single company.

The mayor of Mai Khao, Sarawoot Srisakoolkram, is the brother of the president of Limousine Phuket, the company with the largest number of permits.

He said he thought there were already enough permits at the airport. More were unnecessary, he said.

Airport limousines and taxis, legal and illegal, clog the airport carpark and are just one aspect of Phuket's rapidly failing transport system.

At present at the airport there are 68 metered taxis, 80 Mai Khao Sakool saloon cars and 150 Limousine Phuket vehicles.

The new arrangement, approved by Airports and Thailand and the Transport office, would add 30 vehicles to the Mai Khao Sakool fleet.

The invasion and blockade of the Phuket airport for three days in August 2008 was a precursor to the longer and more damaging eight-day sit-in at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok the following November.

Despite the huge losses it imposed on Phuket's tourist industry and Thailand's reputation, no charges were ever laid against the organisers of the Phuket protest.

However, a full-scale practice involving police with riot shields and fire trucks squirting streams of water at mock protesters last year was an indication that authorities will not countenance a second ill-conceived blockade of Phuket airport.

To even suggest the idea should bring the sternest of reactions. The tourism industry will be expecting strong action on the part of the authorities to put to an end any prospect of an airport upheaval.

Tourists will not tolerate it. Nor should Thailand.

Phuketwan hopes that this threat of causing a catastrophe will bring the realisation that a strategy for an efficient, low-cost public transport system on Phuket has to be introduced as fast as possible.
Phuket's Public Transport Chaos

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Phuket Has Too Many Tuk-Tuks, says Police Chief
Exclusive A tourist who says he was bashed by a tuktuk driver tells his version of events, and Patong's police chief speaks out, saying there are too many tuktuks on Phuket.
Phuket Has Too Many Tuk-Tuks, says Police Chief

Update: Tourist Fined, Then Flies off Phuket
UPDATE A countercharge against a Canadian tourist was heard quickly today to enable him to catch a flight off Phuket. He was fined 1000 baht and his passport was returned.
Update: Tourist Fined, Then Flies off Phuket

Will This Photo Give Phuket Real Public Transport?
Defining Moment The fare was 150 baht for a one minute trip. The tourist objected. The tuk tuk driver would not take 100 baht. He lashed out. But the outcome may be positive: the start of Phuket reform.
Will This Photo Give Phuket Real Public Transport?

Phuket Tuk-Tuks, Jet-Skis, Need Limits: Governor
Latest Jetskis and tuktuks were among the service groups that needed to improve to meet the needs of tourists on Phuket as a popular holiday island, the Phuket Governor said.
Phuket Tuk-Tuks, Jet-Skis, Need Limits: Governor

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Well, I am looking forward to this standoff. Let's see who wins. My money isn't on the government doing something to prevent this.

Posted by Tbs on January 19, 2010 21:54

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If they really wish to test the balance of power then suggest that if they blockade, then use a JCB or earth mover and shock them with a little physical power.. Is it the thugs or the governor who really holds power ??

This is gamesmanship, pure and simple, and until the local power base stands up and says enough, their games will continue.. Will the law be applied equally or not ??

Its time for the choice to be made, entrenched systems or new arrivals, what does this island want ??

Posted by Witness2 change on January 19, 2010 22:07

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If i was the governor i'd put troops at the airport now, just in case.

Posted by billydale on January 19, 2010 22:13

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Here we go again to kill the island once and for all and be done with it. Yeee Haaa Captain Stupid rides again Yeee Haaa !

Posted by Graham on January 19, 2010 22:19

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Who designed the banner on top of this page? Horrible anti advertising. BTW... taxi story is scary but one day the bomb will certainly explode!

Editor: The ad must be effective. Those hotels are running close to 100 percent occupancy. Our other advertisers are also delighted with results.

Posted by Hajo on January 19, 2010 22:26

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I do not care, if they demonstrate at Province Hall. That is ok. If they feel wronged, what else they can do?

But stay away from the airport.

Not only a security issue, it should be the pride of all in Thailand to help the airports running smoothly as they are the lungs of tourism and the face of your nation.

If now every local wannabe thinks airport highjacking is his tool of choice and the Thai authorities LET THAT HAPPEN, then it will be a first slow but then fast accelerating pace of downturn.

Also a fear: In the turmoil of a blockade, security will be low... terrorists on a plane thanks to the insane transport system here?

Anyone who wants to blockade the airport, even if they only threaten to do that, has to be arrested. Because it is a threat to a vital lifeline and the national security of Thailand.

I mean what do they think? Enough other places to demonstrate!

Posted by Lena on January 19, 2010 23:04

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And so it goes on and on. Tell me, what does it take to wake you up, Thailand?

Posted by walker on January 20, 2010 05:31

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Just another day in Paradise. Thug rule as usual.

Posted by Peter J Notley on January 20, 2010 07:03

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Dear Governor of Phuket,

For the sake of Phuket and all its multicultural residents, now is the time to fix this problem. Negotiation is unlikely to work as the 'others' appear to only act with threats and demands.

Cancelling the extra 30 permits would be the first move in the right direction. It's clear there is no need for more taxis/limousines at the airport.

Once you have done that, maybe then try to sit down with the three parties and the AOT. No need for negotiation here, simply lay down the law.

And I would also suggest trying to embarrass the AOT boss in the meeting as surely AOT hold responsibility for issuing extra taxi/limousine permits. And they are therefore complicit in this racket.

Hoping you can achieve these two points and no blockade takes place, could you and your team then please sit down and make a plan regarding ALL of Phuket's transport problems.

I think this could be your legacy upon leaving office... leave Phuket with a better and professional transport system. That would be a fantastic legacy...

I hope you are reading PhuketWan. If not ... you should be!

Posted by Duncan on January 20, 2010 09:08

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Why not allow only 10 (or 20) of each company into the airport, the rest must wait outside it until a car leaves.. Allow market forces to choose which service wins.

Seems they only allow a very small amount of meter taxis in and a clamouring horde of limo drivers taking every available parking space.

Posted by LivinLOS on January 20, 2010 10:03

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I am a tour leader in Montreal. I had a group scheduled to visit Thailand starting January 29. Two days ago one couple from this group informed me they will not go on the trip since they heard from a friend in Thailand that there might be trouble at the main airport.

Their concern was conveyed to others in our group of 18. That led to several of them calling me and asking questions, including how to get their refunds. Today we decided to reschedule the trip to Vietnam instead. It was either that or lose half the group.

Everyone but two like the Vietnam option and tomorrow we are getting a group visa. Departure will be delayed by a week but everyone that is going among the 16 is able to reschedule.

Thailand is now officially off my list for group tours. Perhaps I will reconsider if things get straightened out in the future. The loss of tourists going to Thailand begins now - all it takes is the threat of disruptions for people to get skittish and want to change their plans.

The mere threat is sufficient to send people scurrying to make other plans, even if in the end nothing happens. Nobody wants to get caught being stuck in Phuket or Bangkok, so it's "Adios Thailand - Hello Vietnam".

Posted by Robert Burch on January 20, 2010 11:40

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Airport "limo"- 550 baht. ( 150 baht more than in December.) Metered Taxi caught at airport curb - add 100 baht, "airport tax"
Metered taxi caught on the road- 160 Baht.

Asta La Veugo, Phuket

Posted by Phuketarium on January 20, 2010 13:56


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