By YS Chan
We observe taxi drivers when interacting with them, and often watch when they deal with roadside passengers. Our views are also based on comments made by others and reports in the media.
Our perceptions may not be correct and it would be wrong to paint taxi drivers with a broad brush. Issues are better addressed by first determining whether they are real or imagined, as claimed by various quarters.
To begin with, we need to identify the number and type of taxis. According to a 2013 report by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), there were 61,349 taxi permits under six categories of licences in peninsular Malaysia.
The largest number was for budget taxis (39,056) followed by hire cars (16,012), executive taxis (2,884), airport taxis (2,226), Teksi 1Malaysia (1,000) and premier taxis (171).
While hire cars (non-metered taxis) are found in all 11 states plus Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, no budget cabs (metered taxis) operate in Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak and Perlis.
Premier taxis have since been phased out and so will executive taxis when their permits expire, as all metered taxis will be migrated to Teksi 1Malaysia (Teks1m). Hire cars will continue to operate, and so will limousine taxis, which are not included in the statistics above.
Airport taxis operate out of terminals and fares are fixed by the concessionaire with approval by SPAD. These taxis compete with budget, Teks1m, executive and limousines taxis, and not just with Uber, Grab, tour operators and touts.
There were 32,053 budget taxi permits in the Klang Valley and the number of cabs operating then was probably below 30,000, as it was already difficult finding passengers after the market was flooded with permits and taxis in 2009.
I drove metered taxis in the Klang Valley from 2000 and gave up in 2010. In 2009, the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board granted many individual permits to taxi drivers, and huge number of permits were hoarded by several taxi companies.
When SPAD became operational in 2011, it decided from the onset not to issue any metered taxi permits for the Klang Valley. Several taxi companies were persuaded to surrender some of their unused permits, and SPAD converted 1,000 of these to Teks1m permits.
The first batch of Teks1m permits were granted to 1,000 selected drivers plus a RM5,000 grant each for the purchase of Proton Exora taxi in 2014.
Under the Taxi Industry Transformation Plan unveiled last August, taxi drivers exiting from rental-purchase contracts may apply for individual permits, and those successful would also receive a RM5,000 grant for the purchase of a new taxi.
On March 31, 300 taxi drivers received their individual permits and RM5,000 grant each, and the government had allocated a total of 30,000 taxi permits and RM150 million to be issued over the next five years.
And so it begs the question, what do cabbies want?
Those who want higher and more stable income could switch to driving buses and trucks, and easily earn RM3,000 to RM7,000 a month.
On May 7, the Road Transport Department and the Association of Malaysian Hauliers had another road show promoting MyLesen Goods Driving Licence, launched last November, in an effort to fill up some 1,000 vacancies for commercial vehicle drivers across the nation.
Cabbies who stubbornly cling to driving cars can easily switch to Uber or Grab, as they do not need to own or rent a taxi permit, which they have been complaining for umpteen years.
If they claim that Uber and Grab have been stealing their passengers, why don’t they switch sides as thousands have already done so?
An estimated 10,000 budget taxi drivers in the Klang Valley have surrendered their cabs to taxi companies. Many are driving for Uber or Grab, buses or trucks, or working in other jobs.
No taxi driver was forced to pay several thousand ringgit as deposit to take delivery of a taxi, and sign a rental-purchase agreement for a loan of several years. I did that voluntarily in 2014 to drive a budget taxi.
After settling the loan in three years, I continued driving the same taxi for another three years by renting the permit from the taxi company for RM19 per month. As such, claims of high rental are misleading, as it includes loan repayments for the vehicle.
Many taxi drivers with own permits could not obtain bank loans and had to rely on financing by taxi companies at high interests commensurate with the risks, as drivers could just surrender the taxis and walk away, which would be a huge loss for the financier during the first half of the loan period.
Although 48% of the budget taxi permits in peninsular Malaysia are individually owned, individuals own more than 57% of all types of taxi permits. Many of these owners may not be driving taxis, as their permits are rented out or together with the taxi.
Those who could not qualify to obtain their own taxi permits for various reasons should be thankful to taxi permit owners, whether companies or individuals, for giving them a chance to drive taxis for a living, instead of condemning the system.
But their numbers are very small. About 200 taxi drivers, claiming to be representatives of 600 taxi associations throughout the peninsula, attended the Malaysian Taxi Drivers Congress held at the Petaling Jaya Civic Centre recently.
They plan to form a national union, which will provide a stronger platform for them to air their grievances, which are paltry compared to the losses suffered by taxi companies and other businesses affected by the New Economy.
Unlike businesses that have invested millions of ringgit, these cabbies could just walk away if they are not happy with the changed environment, as they get no sympathy from the public.
They probably feel that they are entitled to a monopolistic situation where passengers must use their services at places where they choose to operate and dictate terms.
YS Chan is an FMT reader.
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