They blocked off most of Jalan Bukit Bintang, demonstrating against alleged government neglect.
Parking their cars in front of the Grand Millenium Hotel, the drivers demanded a meeting with the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD).
Cabbies told reporters that they were protesting against the city’s free-to-ride GO-KL bus service, which was introduced in two popular routes last month.
However, representative Mohammad Asharaf Yasin, 45, said that the free bus ride was only part of the problem that local drivers faced everyday.
“We are also angry with SPAD. They chase us away from the roadside everyday. They issue summonses to us while giving the taxi stands to the big taxi companies [to handle].
“Now with the GO-KL bus service, they are not only picking up the locals, but also the tourists. For free! How are we to make money now?” he said.
Despite the presence of more than 20 police officers, none intervened.
SPAD officials were nowhere to be found. This angered the cabbies who then blocked the whole stretch of the road up to the Fahrenheit 88 shopping mall.
Upon seeing these officers, several cabbies rushed at them, gesturing and shouting loudly, separated only by a line of policemen. The DBKL men were then whisked away.
Acting like gangsters
Later, some cabbies told FMT that the protest was also against the heavy-handed action of SPAD officials who allegedly intimidated the drivers along the busy stretch at about 7.30pm last night.
According to a police report lodged by driver Mohd Jamal Abd Nasir Mohd Saad, 51, officers from four SPAD-marked cars harassed him and his friends.
“The officers came with the intention of showing who was more powerful, SPAD or the cabbies… they were rough and provocative,” the report said.
Today, the cabbies said that SPAD officers acted like “gangsters”.
The protest also saw a host of issues boil over. Driver Zainal Mohd Kassim, 45, said that both SPAD and the government ignored their pleas for many years.
“It is so difficult to earn a living,” said Zainal who has been driving for 20 years.
He said that both KL hotels and foreign-themed restaurants employed their own touts, and even hired illegal taxis (or kereta sapu) for their guests.
He estimated that KL has thousands of taxis, but the government continued to issue taxi permits.
“Why are they [government] putting out new taxis? When are they going to listen to us? After the next elections?”
A cabbie of three years, Anuar Omar, 52, asked why cabbies were allowed to take passengers to the KL International Airport, but were stopped from taking passengers from the airport. “How can we have such a law?”
At about 7pm, SPAD officials finally turned up and met with several representatives of the taxi drivers in a closed-door meeting. They discussed nine issues raised by the cabbies. They were:
- the GO-KL bus service;
- the RM2 coupon charges at selected locations;
- lack of taxi stands and parking, especially along Jalan Bukit Bintang;
- continuous issuance of taxi permits;
- easier renewal of drivers’ registration cards;
- alleged rough action of SPAD officials;
- hotel-sponsored touts in the city;
- airport pickup restrictions; and
- prohibiting taxis in the Klang Valley from going beyond Ipoh, Pahang and Malacca.
Speaking to the crowd later, SPAD legal department chief Farizul Hazli Baharom agreed to sit down with the representatives to discuss the issues and reach a solution.
Farizul also promised to take action against any of his officials if they were found to have acted out of hand.
The cabbies dispersed peacefully at about 7.30pm. However, they promised that they would return if the issues were not settled.