PHUKET GOVERNOR PROPOSES MORE TUK TUKS – The holiday island of Phuket, Thailand receives more than its fair share of bad press due to Thai officials failing to address key tourist related issues.
Whilst many of us dream of a utopia it is widely acknowledged that no such place exists and when it comes to Thailand and its tourist industry there will always be two sides to the coin.
One issue that continuously gets bad press is that of the Tuk Tuk services that operates ferrying tourists around the island.
Over the last 5 years there have been countless tourist complaints targeted at Tuk Tuk drivers ranging from being rude, confrontational, and violent or these simply being extortionists.
There are of course other reports such as Tuk Tuk drivers returning property to tourists that accidently forgot to take their items with them once they completed their journey.
However when you compile the statistics it is clear that Tuk Tuks present more of a problem to Phuket’s tourist industry other than the benefits to the services they provide.
A simple search on any search engine with the phrase ‘Tuk Tuk Phuket’ will often land you with results on violent confrontation. These acts range from Tuk Tuk drivers threatening tourists with violent, actual violent using a weapon of some sort, intimidating resort owners to ensure they get first pickings of tourist travel requirements to blocking entire streets when the authorities attempt to clamp down on their activities.
The most frequent complaint appears to be that of pricing. It is widely acknowledged that Phuket has one of the highest fare rates in Thailand and many tourists and Phuket residents feel that Tuk Tuk drivers are ripping people off.
The darker element to the Tuk Tuk is the way in which groups have been organised with so-call Tuk Tuk associations. These are often referred to as ‘mafia’ based operations which use their numbers and connections to intimidate and control local authorities and law enforcement.
Considering the on-going issues and with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) currently on Phuket to sort out corruption, it comes as a surprise to many that the Governor of Phuket has just announced the proposal to increase the number of Tuk Tuks operating in Phuket.
Currently the number of ‘legally’ operating Tuk Tuks is capped at 1,200 however the number of ‘illegal’ TukTuks operating has never been fully established – or at least the local authorities have never provided the figure.
Some suspect the number of ‘illegal’ Tuk Tuks operating on the island is equal or may even exceed the number of ‘legal’ operators; again such a figure has never been published.
In a petition to the Governor, Sakol Sirsompoch, a leader of a local ‘legal’ Tuk Tuk group has asked the Governor to address the issue of illegal operating Tuk Tuk as they are damaging the image of Phuket and depriving income from his members.
In response to his complaint Vice Governor Chamroen provided an assurance that a team from the Transport Department, along with police, will seek out and issue a fine of 2,000 Baht (approx US$60) for any Tuk Tuk that does not have a legal operating licence.
Phuket Governor Maitri is now proposing that an in-depth study be conducted that would pave the way for a better service by installing a new system that would provide better conditions for those Tuk Tuks operating legally.
According to Patong’s police chief, Superintendent Chiraphat Pochanaphan, the police are making headway in tackling illegal Tuk Tuk’s and has so far this month fined over 170 who were operating without a licence.
Whilst some agree with the Governor’s proposals that all Tuk Tuk’s should be legal and that an increase in Tuk Tuk numbers is feasible there are some quarters of the Tuk Tuk drivers who feel that Phuket already has too many Tuk Tuk’s and that more would simply dilute their income and their ability to carve out an honest living from the tourists.
Phuket has in the past experienced a number of conflicts with Tuk Tuks with some taking to blockading streets and threatening violent confrontations with the authorities if their demands are not met.
There have also been clashes between legal and illegal Tuk Tuk operators which often involves violence; something the local authorities are keen to avoid as such behaviour only reflects badly on Phuket’s tourist industry.
Many insiders feel that the laws in Phuket are too easily flouted; mainly due to practices of corruption. These issues need addressing and the law needs applying effectively if Phuket’s tourist industry is to flourish in the future.
Are more Tuk Tuks the answer? It appears that the Governor is trying to bring the illegally operating Tuk Tuk’s into the fold and provide them with proper licencing. The result of such a plan may reduce the issues in the short term but without proper law enforcement many insiders feel this will only be a temporary measure until more illegal Tuk Tuks appear on the scene.