It’s unfair to expect cabbies to be saints

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Taxi drivers can provide more than transportation. If their passengers like it, they can also engage in small talk. In fact, as Shah Alam Taxi Drivers and Car Rentals President Yazid Mohamad Yusof has said, our cabbies act like ambassadors since they are often the first locals that tourists come into contact with.

Obviously, there are many who have been rather naughty, but why is it that we hold them accountable to a higher standard than we do those engaged in other occupations?

Are we, for instance, such ethical employees that we feel we have the right to judge others based on how they do their jobs? Do all policemen, politicians, lawyers, doctors, civil servants or journalists in this country conduct themselves so much more professionally than those who drive people through thick traffic jams for long hours to earn enough to keep their families from starving? The 18th Century writer Samuel Johnson once said, “God Himself, Sir, does not propose to judge a man until his life is over. Why should you and I?”

Many social media enthusiasts in Malaysia, even if they’ve never visited londoncabs.co.uk, often cite the website for ranking Kuala Lumpur taxi drivers as the world’s worst. That’s fair enough since many KL cabbies are rough, rude, crooked and refuse to turn on their fare meters.

But do all taxi drivers truly deserve the resentment of the public? Do they deserve to be attacked by almost every civic group in the country? Do they, indeed, deserve to be denied their rights by the same statutory body that is supposed to protect those rights?

Perhaps it’s because we believe that taxi drivers ought to be saints that we’ve punished them and their families by opting to use transportation services like Uber and GrabCar.

The taxi drivers who protest against the increasing use of these alternative services have made the same argument over and over again – that allowing these services to continue is akin to allowing drug pushers to ply their trade. Okay, maybe they’re exaggerating, but they’re making the point that Uber and GrabCar are, when you come right down to it, illegal services.

They’re asking: Why are the authorities ignoring the law that requires transport operators to be licensed? And if some laws can be freely broken, can other laws be broken just as freely? If that is so, what’s to stop a quack from performing brain surgery in his backyard at a competitive price?

The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) is aware of the plight of taxi drivers, as are politicians who claim to champion the people’s rights. Both SPAD and these politicians have often talked about doing something about it. But that talk has been going on for a long time.

And now there’s even more talk. This time it’s about legalising Uber and GrabCar. But what is worrying taxi drivers is whether Uber and GrabCar will be required to follow the same set of rules and regulations that regular cabbies have to abide by. Or will they be allowed to continue operating like they’re doing now? “If that’s the case, then we might as well get rid of our taxis and join Uber,” said a taxi driver at a press conference two months ago.

We can all continue talking about the many things that could be implemented to resolve the issue, but so far talk has proven to be dirt cheap. It does look like there’s no will to act. And with the bad reputation that our cabbies carry, we who are saintly in carrying out our jobs probably want to see them continue to suffer the punishment of poverty. So what if a few families go hungry tonight?