PHUKET TAXI AND TUK TUK MAFIA THREATEN VIOLENCE IF PUBLIC BUSES ARE PUT IN SERVICE – For nearly two decades influential and powerful figures, who no one will name, has controlled how tourists and locals get about on the island of Phuket.
Throughout the years Tuk Tuk and Taxi drivers, protected under so-called ‘associations’ have been allow to run a monopoly on public transport that has often resulted in road blockades and even extreme violence.
Over the years customers have been stabbed and beaten; even to the point of putting most of their victims in hospital and in an extreme case last year putting a German in the Intensive Care Unit in a coma.
None of the Tuk Tuk or Taxi drivers have ever faced trial for their crimes due to the protection of unnamed and powerful individuals.
At any given time, if the police had the backbone to try, could they set up a checkpoint, a common practice to fine drivers for an array of minor offenses, and look inside a Tuk Tuk cab and find illegal weapons. It is common knowledge that Tuk Tuk drivers carry everything from iron bars (that have been used on more than a few tourists in the past who have disputed a fare) to knives, machetes and even illegal firearms.
Why don’t the police take action? It is widely acknowledged that it is difficult to find an honest policeman and one that is brave enough to go up against the Tuk Tuk mafia. It is nothing unusual to find an altercation in Phuket’s red-light area of Patong (although the entire island is basically a whore house) between tourists and Tuk Tuk drivers and the police either look or walk the other way.
There appears not to be a week that goes by without someone making a complaint and it’s not just the violence but also the extortionate fares levied by the drivers. A 30 kilometer ride in a Phuket Taxi can cost you as much as 1,000 Thai Baht (US$30) while in the Thai capital of Bangkok that same distance is like to cost less than 100 Thai Baht (US$3).
As the complaints mount from tourists and locals the local administration comes out with the usual rhetoric that they are going to end their strangle-hold on transport and the Governor often then orders the Transportation Department head to initiate a plan for a public transport system.
Two weeks ago the head of Phuket’s Transport Department announced that it was launching a new public bus service within one week, however it also went on to say that the Tuk Tuk and Taxi Associations had yet been given a chance to air their views and that they were also waiting on the head of the Airport to give his approval as to whether the buses could enter the airport to pick up and drop off passengers.
As the Tuk Tuk and Taxi Associations got wind of this announcement a meeting was called. During the meeting the Tuk Tuk and Taxi Associations refused to accept any such form of public transport and warned local officials that they would blockade the roads and resort to violence, as they have done in the past, in order to protect their income. As news broke of the meeting the head of the Airport formally told the Head of the Transport Department that it would not give permission for public buses to enter the airport grounds.
Once again the issue of a cheap alternative transport system has been blocked by an organization that is bathed in blood, violence and greed.
Phuket’s roads are currently over-crowded and where once you could drive from one end of the island to the other in an hour nowadays it can take three or four times as long.
On top of the massive congestion comes with it higher road fatalities and most families rely on small mopeds to get around. It is nothing unusual to see four or even five people crammed on a Honda 125 Wave and mostly without helmets.
As with each passing year the increase in road deaths and serious injuries rises in proportion to the ever increasing number of vehicles on the roads of this tiny island and while many officials and residents feel that a good, cheap public transport system could alleviate congestion and reduce the death toll, the Tuk Tuk and Taxi mafia refuse to budge by always citing their livelihood would be put at risk. It is common knowledge that Thais are quite happy for someone to die providing they get money and will put money above even their own family members.
Another sound argument for the introduction of a public bus service is to allow foreign tourist, of which the island relies on for income, to get around safely and cheaply. However this argument has no merit within the Tuk Tuk and Taxi Associations as they argue that it is their right to extort exorbitant fares from foreigners who can afford it – Thais believe that ALL foreigners are dripping in cash and no explaining contrary to this will ever convince them otherwise.
The parting shot across the ship from the authorities was that they were going to move ahead and that a few selfish individuals should not be allow to intimidate police or officials. The response from the Tuk Tuk and Taxi Associations was a simply one – move forward with your plans and we’ll paint the streets red with blood.
From past experience the issue of the public bus service will once again be placed at the bottom of the pile of the list of things that need doing. The situation is like a broken record with the same tune and the same result being played over and over again.