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British taxi comparison site placed KL taxi drivers at the top of the list. Rome came in second.

Malaysians on Facebook concur. Sweezy Hirano, said: “Looking for good cabbies in KL is simply like finding needle in haystacks... good cabbies are like endangered species already.”

How about looking at this topic from a different perspective or angle?

How many of us are aware there was this Taxi Transformation Plan (TTP)? It is one of six subsidiary plans of the Greater KL/Klang Valley Land Public Transport Master Plan. The purpose is to develop a long term programme to with plans to execute high impact, effective delivery initiatives for 20-year sustainable quality land public transport services.

The TTP is a comprehensive paper outlining the issues including drafting of new standards and licensing policy. It offers a combination of long- and short-term interventions in order to drive up the quality of drivers, vehicles and legislative processes while offering real benefits to the travelling public.

Existing situation were identified through analysis of data and stakeholder engagement and a review of the forecast travel situation in the region was identified.

A) Industry concerns

The TTP has the following concerns:

1. Taxi operators’ number one concern is congestion. Provision of taxi (or taxi/bus) priority lanes on key routes would reduce stress levels and help increase efficiency.

2. Road conditions affect driver and passenger comfort, journey reliability and can damage the vehicles reducing vehicle life. There is a need for swift road maintenance to address the numerous potholes.

3. Drivers typically drive over 375km/day with only 30-40 percent of km travelled farepaying. In Singapore fare paying km stands at around 70 percent.

4. Operators are generally unhappy with the current budget vehicle specifications. Customers want more space.

5. There is also no allowance or subsidy for the instillation of NGV.

6. It was recognised there are good and bad drivers but lack of monitoring, enforcement and training allow driving standards to vary significantly.

7. It is not seen as a skilled industry. There needs to be an accreditation introduced to improve service delivery and raise standards.

8. Operators were concerned at the lack of a long-term transport policy. Suitable long-term policy to be set and not tampered with every year. There is reluctance to invest in new vehicles due to uncertainties in future policy.

9. Operators suggested, for ease of licensing, regulation and enforcement, for the Land Transport Commission (Spad) to take over the issuing of taxi driver cards and PSV licences from the Road Transport Department (JPJ) as Spad is in charge of public transport.

10. Too many taxi vehicle classes from budget to airport taxis and hired cars contracted to hotels and several areas respectively

Other concerns

a. The central business districts in areas such as Bukit Bintang and KLCC are controlled by taxi companies and touts manning lucrative spots such as Pavilion, Lot 10 and hotels located along Jalan Ampang.

b. Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), the operator of KLIA and KLIA2, has outsourced the management of the LTCP queue system. It can take up to six hours to finally get a number, so while waiting, the drivers do what they can to kill time. This is very unproductive. There is a 9 percent commission for each coupon taxi taken while the fee on metered taxis is only RM2. About 80 percent of the taxi jobs in KLIA are taken up by coupon taxis.

c. Favouritism and double standards.

d. Free-to-ride GO-KL bus service.

e. Continuous issuance of taxi permits.

Last year, there was news on anti-competitive practices at KLIA terminal by taxi operators which resulted in passengers wasting time in a long queue to get a taxi. Spad instructed that effective March 1, two counters will be allocated for city taxis next to the airport limousine service at both the domestic and international arrival halls of KLIA. However, after a day or two, things seemed to go back to the devious ways

This is how the taxi business in Malaysia can go corrupt.

B) Public concerns

  • Reckless and rude drivers/Lack of customer service.
  • Lack of knowledge on destinations/roads.
  • Overcharging/refusing to use meter.
  • Drivers ‘cherry-pick’ passengers and refuse to serve congested destinations.

C. Benchmarking

The requirements for applying for a driver’s license are very stringent in New York, London and Singapore. Driver and vehicle licensing is normally under one body but we have two, JPJ and Spad.

A key indicator of taxi provision is to consider per capita provision. The Greater KL/Klang Valley region has a high level of taxi provision compared to London, HK and NY). This is not always an exact indicator because in some cities vehicles may be double- or triple-shifted.

D. What is there for the public and the industry?

Based on the above, the needs of the industry and public are very clear. The challenge for the industry is to improve quality while ensuring costs are minimised i.e. ensure that drivers are receiving a fair return.

Last month, I had a long chat with the driver on my journey back from KLIA2. He told me, among the issues faced are high cost of permit and space restrictions on those using natural gas (NG). In fact, I got into his taxi because he is not using NG. It was only me and my wife with two normal-sized travelling bags and the NG taxis could not accommodate us.

As for the permit, it seems the permit owners - the big taxi companies (normally owned by Datuks) - only pay RM1,800 for a period of four years but the taxi drivers have to pay RM30/day to the owners. That works out to an income of about RM44,000 for four years for the permit owners.

In the TTP, it showed 89 percent of taxi users found the service provided satisfactory/acceptable. Taxi users displayed the second highest satisfaction levels behind LRT users and better than bus and KTM.

The TTP also have performance targets and an indicative phasing timetable and key decision points. Most of the things are to be completed in 2014 except for training. I wonder what is the latest status.

As is common in most issues in Malaysia, the word ‘enforcement’ keeps beeping. We would strongly urge the regulator to do what they are supposed to do. And please put a date when the TTP was prepared.

Thirty over thousand cabbies are doing a service for us and the few errant ones got away because of lack of enforcement. If you noticed, only about 300 out of thirty over thousand staged a protest a few weeks ago. The others are busy working to get ‘sesuap nasi’ for their families under the current El Nino conditions.

And the permit owners are laughing their way to the bank...

So now, Sweezy Hirano, given the above points, are KL cabbies really that bad?

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