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Disgruntled taxi drivers — get competing not complaining

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 23 March 2016

By Y S CHAN

ON Dec 30 last year, 102 taxi drivers filed a lawsuit against the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) at the High Court civil registry.

The drivers are part of the members of the Klang Valley Taxi Drivers Action Committee – an ad hoc action committee comprising 29 taxi associations.

They are seeking a declaration from the High Court for SPAD to ban Uber, Grabcar and Blacklane within seven days of a court order, and are asking for general damages, interest, costs and relief deemed fit by the court.

At the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex on March 4, the lawyer for the group of 102 taxi drivers said they were informed that Uber was attempting to be intervenor in their lawsuit.

He disclosed that a deputy registrar had ordered them to reply to the statement of defence by March 17, for next case management on March 21.

The lawyer also expressed dissatisfaction over the conduct of some taxi operators in renting out their vehicle permits causing further hardship to taxi drivers.

To better understand taxi issues, it is necessary to separate taxi drivers into two broad categories, one with their own permits and the other without.

Half of all taxi permits are owned by individuals and many of these are rented out and the
reasons are many.

For several decades, taxi permits were granted by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) in peninsula Malaysia until SPAD took over from January 2011.

While many individuals were granted permits based on merit, those on patronage obtained quite a number.

An individual owner may just rent out the permit or together with the taxi. For compassionate
reasons, CVLB and later SPAD allowed permits to be transferred to the widow to provide a source of income for the deceased family.

From 2008, CVLB started to issue budget and executive taxi permits freely to both individuals and taxi companies, flooding the market by 2009.

By the time SPAD started operations, it decided correctly not to issue any more permits, as there were far too many in the Klang Valley.

Those who did not bother to apply for taxi permits during 2008 and 2009 only have themselves to blame, and likewise those who choose to become cabbies when the market is already saturated with taxis.

The fact that SPAD had not issued any new metered taxi permits in the Klang Valley has not stopped many people from becoming taxi drivers or continue to drive taxis for a living.

They can choose to rent permits or taxis from individuals or companies. Most cabbies sourc their taxis from companies as it is easier to locate and deal with.

They can opt for a new or used taxi by paying several thousand ringgit as down payment and commit to pay instalments over several years after signing the rental-purchase agreement.

Upon settling the loan, the driver can continue to operate the same vehicle as taxi by renting the permit only or convert it into a private car in his name.

The rental system had allowed many people without permits to drive taxis. It is difficult to fathom how this has caused hardship to the drivers.

Cabbies should not blame anyone as no one forced them to become taxi drivers. Perhaps, they need to be properly advised before signing a rental-purchase agreement as many do not really know what they are in for.

Some expect EPF contributions without realising that they are customers, not employees, of taxi companies. It is akin to private car owners expecting banks to contribute to their EPF after taking a hire-purchase loan.

Some expect SOCSO benefits. Again, it is like food sellers expecting insurance benefits from the coffee shop operator for renting the stalls. Taxi drivers should realise that they are no different from other self-employed people.

But they are not totally to be blamed. Politicians from both sides of the divide had used them as pawns, thinking that they form a sizeable vote bank. Before elections, they were given promises, raising their expectations.

What taxi drivers need is genuine help to get them out of the low-income trap. Bus companies are acutely short of good drivers and many taxi drivers can easily switch to driving buses and enjoy a higher and stable income.

They can be assisted to settle their rental-purchase loan and transition to become bus drivers but sadly, most of them are unemployable because of their poor attitude and indiscipline.

The best taxi drivers are busily serving their regular pool of customers, as they have built up large customer bases by treating every passenger as a VIP, and every trip a privilege.

Some continue to be radio cab drivers while most have switched to using one or more taxi apps for passengers. Others choose to wait at shopping centres, hotels, airports or train stations, while the impatient ones cruise for passengers.

The worst taxi drivers parked their cars by the roadside and tout for passengers while others are found in areas where taxis operate on fixed fares. Those intimidating private car drivers suspected of providing Uber or GrabCar services are committing an offence.

It is odd for taxi drivers to sue SPAD and not the police or Road Transport Department, as all these enforcement agencies are empowered to confiscate private cars used for taxi-like services.

Ironically, SPAD had impounded many private cars offering Uber, GrabCar and Blacklane services, which is a clear testament that they are prohibited, rendering the call to ban something illegal superfluous.

If these ride-hailing apps are taking away the passengers, what is stopping taxi drivers from switching over?

What we have are many taxi drivers without their own permits and yet want to drive taxis, and the only way to do so is to rent a permit or taxi, but they still want to complain against such a system.

Ironically, many taxi drivers with own permits did not qualify for bank loans and had to turn to taxi companies for financing the vehicle.

The majority of taxi drivers are “lone rangers”, busily driving taxis and have no time or interest to join any taxi association.

Some taxi company bosses and taxi drivers make use of taxi associations as their platforms to be popular, and the purported large number of members may be non-existent.

Private car drivers using ride-hailing apps to get their passengers are always in their best behaviour or risk immediate suspension.

On the other hand, the complaining taxi drivers are not bothered to compete with good service and expect passengers to use them just because their cars are licensed as taxis. They think the world owes them a living.

If taxi drivers were to succeed in the suit, will hoteliers take on the government because they have lost out to Airbnb? And what about banks losing business to loan sharks, or licensed lottery companies to illegal operators and online gambling?

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