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No easy fix for M’sia’s woeful taxi industry

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 19 October 2015

BY Y S CHAN

MANY people feel that Malaysia’s woeful taxi services can easily be fixed but do not realise the problems are multi-faceted and deep-seated from the top down.

The most vocal stakeholders are taxi drivers and representatives of mobile hailing apps using private vehicles.

They have vested interests but pretend to be sincere in promoting better transport, and public
opinion has been swayed by politically correct statements.

Concerned members of the public have offered their two cents worth and editorials regularly feature taxi issues, but little has changed over the years.

This is because calling on taxi drivers to do better is like talking to the wall.

Even if they could hear and understand, it is unlikely such advice would be heeded.

It is time for everyone to realise that there is no silver bullet for the industry, which
encompasses licensed taxis and private vehicles operating as pirate taxis.

Any chance of fixing it would have to start with the legacy issues.

We may have been a British colony but they left behind a functioning government, and life
was simple and straightforward then.

For all matters on road transport, we only had the Registrar and Inspector of Motor Vehicles
(RIMV) until the Road Transport Licensing Board (RTLB) was set up in the early 1970s.

RTLB was tasked to issue licences for all commercials vehicles except for small goods
vehicles, which were automatically granted decontrolled permits by RIMV upon registration.

RIMV evolved into Road Transport Department (RTD) with a big enforcement team while RTLB was later renamed Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) and set up its own small enforcement squad.

The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) became operational in early 2001 and took over the duties, and unresolved issues, left behind by CVLB in peninsular Malaysia.

Its small band of enforcement officers was unable to cope but whenever enforcement was found lacking, all eyes would be on SPAD.

The main responsibility should be shouldered by RTD with an enforcement team several times larger than SPAD.

If not, these enforcement officers should be placed under SPAD, leaving some in RTD to carry out checks on private vehicles.

It is imperative that enforcement of commercial vehicles, especially taxis, should be under the jurisdiction of a single agency to ensure consistency.

Compulsory motor insurance was introduced under the Motor Vehicles (Third Party Risks) Regulations 1946, now contained in the Road Transport Act 1987.

As drivers are liable to be sued for causing injuries to others but may not have the means to
pay huge compensation, all motor vehicles must be insured for such an eventuality.

All fare-paying passenger vehicles such as buses and taxis must also be insured for legal liability to passengers should the driver be at fault in an accident.

It is clearly stated in every motor insurance policy that cover would be void if a private vehicle is used for hire or reward, such as carrying fare-paying passengers.

Should a fare-paying passenger is found in a private car at the time of accident, the driver would have to bear the full cost of compensation to injured parties in and outside his vehicle.

It is also clearly in violation of the law and hire-purchase agreement. The police, RTD and SPAD are empowered to seize private vehicles operating as pirate taxis.

If Uber had been sincere, it would have lobbied our lawmakers to introduce amendments to antiquated laws instead of claiming to work with “local authorities”.

Taxi drivers and regulators should stop telling the public that it is unsafe to use private vehicles as passengers are not protected by insurance.

I would say it is much safer to use a private vehicle driven by a younger man or woman than a dilapidated taxi driven by a physically or mentally unhealthy driver.

A Public Service Vehicle (PSV) license is required to drive taxis and the vehicle inspected regularly at Puspakom. But having a vocational licence and inspection disc does not necessarily make the taxi safer than a private car.

Insurance does not offer protection. We are protected by crash helmets, safety belts and air bags in an accident, and it is safer to travel when the driver and vehicle are in good condition.

Liability insurance seems fair as compensation commensurate with injuries and loss of income but they are usually awarded by the courts years later, causing untold misery to the victims and their families.

Much of the money is also spent on litigation and lawyers specialising in this area are known
as ambulance-chasers.

It would be better to replace liability insurance with fixed sum personal accident insurance as
compensation are speedily paid out without having to establish fault.

When SPAD took over from CVLB in 2011, there were more than 38,000 taxis in the Klang Valley when half the number would be sufficient.

As such, issuing any more metered taxi permits would hurt both new and existing drivers. Moreover, the majority of taxi permits were issued to individuals but many were rented out.

A driver who took delivery of his taxi in 2010 was unhappy that the lifespan of his taxi was shortened from 10 years to 7 when SPAD reduced the term of the permit he was hiring.

He complained that SPAD is forcing drivers to rent taxis from crony companies by not issuing permits to individuals.

Actually, no one was ever forced to pay several thousand ringgit as down payment and sign a rental-purchase agreement to rent the permit and purchase the car.

They are customers of taxi companies and are self-employed. But still they would demand EPF and SOCSO benefits.

The same driver also claimed that SPAD allowed monopolies to operate, such as in KLCC.

Until rules on terminal licensing are tightened, taxi concessions are granted by owners of premises such as shopping malls.

The taxi industry is plagued by ignorance, deceit and weaknesses.

Taxi drivers who want a higher and more stable income should stop complaining and switch to driving buses and trucks, and earn several thousand ringgit monthly.

There is a shortage of heavy vehicle drivers. SPAD could assist taxi drivers to settle their rental-purchase loan and upgrade their driving and vocational licences.

Passengers who do not wish to take a chance on taxi drivers could either call for a radio cab
or use or taxi app and be assured of a decent driver vetted and controlled by these operators.

Uber should stop pretending that without it, passengers would have to deal with the worst taxi
drivers in the world as if no taxi apps are available.

We should stop being gullible by treating Uber as the messiah when it is mercenary in mopping up our ringgit without having to pay local taxes.

They are simply operating in a taxi black-market and trusting Malaysians have signed up to earn some pocket money, only to have their vehicles impounded by SPAD or harassed by taxi drivers.

Uber operates anywhere it can, including cities where taxi services are tops and has little
regard for local laws and taxi drivers.

The authorities and taxi drivers should stop telling the public not to use private cars as passengers are not insured, vehicles not inspected by Pusapakom, and drivers are without a PSV licence.

All these are not a factor, what counts is someone who can provide a ride. It can be a friend or someone friendly for an affordable fee.

Unfortunately, the image of a typical taxi driver does not fit the bill, hence the popularity of
private car drivers.

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