Overtaxi-ng passengers

TWO weeks ago, an executive taxi driver was fined RM1,000 for over-charging his passengers. He had charged a couple from Britain RM459.20 for a ride from KLCC in Jalan Ampang to a hotel in Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur.

Going by Google maps, the distance between the two points is 2.1km, which at the executive taxi flagdown rate of RM6 plus 20 sen per 100m, should have cost them RM6 plus RM4.20 making the fare about RM10.20.

The court heard that the taxi meter had read RM8 before it was shut off by the unscrupulous driver, who then went on to charge them 45 times the proper fare.

The cabbie pleaded guilty and paid the RM1,000 fine, which was a mere 2% of the maximum fine he could have been liable to, not to mention being jailed.

Under Section 75(1) of the Land Public Transport Act 2010, cabbies who overcharge can be fined up to RM50,000, jailed for three years, or both.

A mitigating factor for this unscrupulous cabbie getting off with a mere slap on the wrist was that by pleading guilty, he had saved the court time.

Let's get real! We all know that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg, and that overcharging by taxi drivers happens every day, all around the country.

Being the first to be charged and convicted under this newly enforced law, an example should have been made of the unscrupulous driver, particularly as the fare was exorbitant.

Without evidence, one should rightly give the benefit of the doubt, as to whether this driver had fleeced other passengers. However, looking at the audacity with which he had overcharged by 45 times, one cannot but think this was not the first time.

But never mind that. What I find more baffling, is that the powers that be have yet to revoke his taxi driver's permit.
The offence was committed on Feb 8, he was convicted on April 26, but when theSun last checked with the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) on May 4, his taxi driver's permit had yet to be revoked, and that the matter was being considered.

That means, even as you are reading this article, the cabbie may well be fleecing more unsuspecting passengers.

On the same day this cabbie was convicted, another taxi driver was fined RM400 after he pleaded guilty to overcharging four passengers RM8.

In this case, the fine was 500 times the amount the passengers were overcharged, compared to the first cabbie whose fine amounted to only just more than double the amount he overcharged the tourists.

Were the sentences somewhat unbalanced? Or does it mean the driver who overcharged by 4,000% was the wiser of the two – following the proverb "one might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb"?

Seems to me the authorities need to work on the figures.
On the peculiarities of the taxi system in our country, one rule that needs to be reviewed is where normal taxis that send people to the airport are not allowed to pick up a fare there, and vice-versa for airport limos which send passengers to the city.

This leads to passengers going to the LCCT, for example, being forced to pay RM15 above the metered fare, to compensate the cabbie for returning to the city empty.

By the same token, arriving passengers at the airport have to pay more via the zoned coupon system to compensate for the cabbies having to return to the airport empty.

In other countries – Singapore, Hong Kong, London or New York – you will find that it is the ordinary taxi that takes you from the airport to the city. So why burden passengers with extra charges? Even the cabbies complain about the coupon system.

At the LCCT, the first RM3 the passenger pays goes to the concessionaire running the coupon fare system. Whether or not the counter staff give you service with a smile, you can be assured the company is smiling all the way to the bank.

Given that about 14 million passengers (some statistics even indicate 15 million) use the LCCT a year, and presuming about an equal number arrive and leave, there would be about 7 million arrivals.

If we conservatively take it that just one in 10 arriving passengers takes the taxi, the company will collect about RM2.1 million a year from its RM3 commission. If 20% of the arrivals use the service, that would be RM4.2 million a year or a cool RM350,000 a month.

So much money just to have a few women and computer terminals to churn out taxi coupons, and maybe have a few staff marshal passengers to the waiting taxis. And we are only talking about the LCCT. What about other airports in the country and the train stations?

I remember asking tourism officials for the rationale behind having dedicated airport taxis, and was told airport "limos" are needed because tourists have luggage and therefore need cabs with bigger boot space to ferry them into town.
But does the argument hold water?

Consider that after spending three or four days in our fair city and doing some shopping, don't they have more luggage to carry when they are leaving? And what taxis do they get to the airport?

Unless they are affluent tourists staying at big hotels and do not mind paying for limousine services, it is likely to be the ordinary city taxi. And there again, they will have to pay the surcharge to compensate the taxi driver for returning empty.

Why not do away with dedicated taxis and allow all taxis to pick up passengers anywhere, provided the metered fare is always enforced?

Freddie Ng is managing editor of theSun and can be reached at fred@thesundaily.com