Taxi issue: Enough talks, time to enforce

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 – Taxi drivers have been given too much leeway by the government with little or no repercussion for their actions. The latest being their call, first for Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad then Transport Minister Anthony Loke, to resign from their posts.

The latest comments by Deputy Transport Minister Dato’ Kamarudin Jaffar defending his boss is weak at best, though he is understandably doing his best to keep the peace with the taxi drivers.

The taxi drivers want Loke to step down over the continued existence of e-hailing services, such as Grab. The same group had also walked out of a forum attended by Mahathir in Langkawi on Sunday and asked for him to quit as well for the same reason.

Yesterday, Kamaruddin advised the taxi drivers that Loke does not take any decisions unilaterally but only after discussions with the relevant people under his ministry.

Kamaruddin was also reported to have said that numerous meetings were held with taxi associations involving the minister, ministry officials and the Land Public Transport Agency (APAD).

New rules on e-hailing already levels the playing field

The thing is, the government had already introduced new rules in July to level the playing field between e-hailing services and taxis.

E-hailing drivers are now required to have the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence, which costs RM115 a year, and also ensure their vehicles undergo annual vehicle inspections at Puspakom, just as in the case of taxi drivers. However, e-hailing drivers will be given until July 11, 2019 to meet the new requirements.

It is also compulsory now for e-hailing companies to register with APAD and pay an annual fee to carry out their business in the country.

APAD, as we know, was formerly known as the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), which came into existence from January 2011, with the enactment of the Land Public Transport Act 2010. Before 2011, SPAD was known as the Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board (CVLB).

The alleged corruption of CVLB/SPAD under PM’s Department

The CVLB was established in 1987, during the Mahathir administration, taking over the issuing of licences for commercial transport vehicles from the Transport Ministry and placed under the Prime Minister’s Department.

It has been previously alleged that such lucrative licences for taxis, buses and lorries needed to be under the PM’s Department so as to ensure it was controlled by Umno leaders there.

This was allegedly to ensure their cronies would benefit. This was also the reason for the allegations of lack of enforcement and poor action following tragic accidents involving bus and lorry companies.

Transport ministers in the past, all from the MCA, had to respond every time such accidents took place, but the reality of the situation was that they were powerless when it came to the operations of bus and lorry companies.

CVLB/SPAD was also allegedly used to create taxi operators as “middlemen” earning easy money from hapless taxi drivers. Many, if not all, of these taxi operators were also allegedly Umno cronies.

New government, new way of doing business

This has changed with Loke being appointed transport minister in May. He immediately proposed that SPAD be placed under his purview and was given his wish with the downgrading of SPAD from a commission to an agency directly under the Transport Ministry.

Loke’s action to temporarily suspend the operations of a lorry company after one of its trailers had been involved in an accident in which five people were killed, is also testimony to his promise to be tough when it matters.

However, where is the same toughness when it comes to taxi drivers? What enforcement is being carried out on a regular basis to check the biggest public transport network in the country?

Good taxi drivers harassed by bad hats

Though there are many bad taxi drivers out there, there are as many good taxi drivers who just want to earn an honest living.

Some of these good drivers have also been facing harassment for many years from these bad hats for “encroaching into their territory” and picking up passengers at hotspots such as LRT stations, shopping malls and transport hubs, such as Pudu Sentral (formerly Puduraya) and KL Sentral.

The APAD under the transport ministry now probably has greater powers, as all driving licences are issued by the Road Transport Department (JPJ).

With JPJ’s existing resources, in addition to those which the APAD still maintains from its previous operations, there should be no problem in weeding out the real bad hats among taxi drivers and cleaning up this problem once and for all.

Enough powers to ensure taxi drivers behave

APAD and JPJ should conduct regular enforcement exercises the same way that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in Singapore does to ensure taxi drivers behave and fully comply to the service level required by law.

It is not a difficult task actually. Just go undercover and try to take taxis at the hotspots mentioned above.

If there is any haggling over the fare or if the taxi driver refuses to go where you want to because it is too near or too far, or because of traffic jam, then just issue the summons, suspend the driver’s licence immediately for a given period.

Then, JPJ and APAD just has to repeat the same on a weekly basis at all the hotspots.

Put up notices in Bahasa Malaysia and English too (for tourists) at these hotspots, with the number to call or message, so that people are made aware too of stronger action taking place by the relevant authority.

The lack of enforcement in Malaysia due to cronyism and corruption within enforcement agencies is a greater problem than just what these bad taxi drivers are doing.

Loke, Kamaruddin and their ministry officials, as well as APAD, must do more than just talk to the press. Just ensure that every action necessary is taken and act on complaints. That is all that’s needed.

– By K Anand