It was reported that the Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) will be reducing five classes of taxis (airport, budget, executive, premier and 1Malaysia) to three (taxis, hired cars and limousines).
The report incorrectly placed hired cars and limousines under only the new classification, and are created to replace some classes of taxis.
Actually, only metered taxis will be reduced to one class, with no change for hired cars and limousines, which have been running for more than five decades.
The reclassification exercise would be better understood by taking a look at how local taxi services have evolved over the years.
In the 1960s, stage bus services were irregular, such as from Pandamaran New Village to Klang. Instead of waiting indefinitely, some residents walked out of the village to Persiaran Raja Muda Musa to catch buses plying between Port Klang and Klang.
Many villagers also travelled to Klang by taxis, which were fitted with bulky taxi meters. But fares were fixed at an affordable 50 sen per passenger, and four strangers may share a taxi.
These taxis normally head towards the taxi/bus station, and passengers may get off along the way. Services were efficient as many pirate taxis were also available charging the same fare.
The most popular taxi model was Mercedes Benz. In the early 1970s, tour guides boasted to tourists that more Mercedes taxis are found in Malaysia than anywhere else outside Germany, as many could be spotted along the old trunk road from Penang to Singapore.
Taxis were the most popular mode of transport for travelling outstation until more passengers switched to cheaper express buses in the 1970s.These taxis were licensed as kereta sewa or hired car.
But they were different from kereta sewa pandu or hire and drive, which customers could hire from a car rental company, and drive a car that looked the same as those under private registration.
Hired cars are painted like taxis, except the fares are fixed. For clarity, it is better to describe them as non-metered taxis. In 2013, Spad prepared a taxi fares review paper disclosing that hired cars constituted 26 percent of all taxis in peninsular Malaysia.
They are found in all 11 states and two Federal Territories, whereas there are few or no metered taxis outside Penang, the Klang Valley and Johor.
When I started driving metered cabs from 2000, the starting fare for budget taxi was RM2, RM8 per hour and 66 sen per km, and premier taxi was RM3, RM16 and RM1 respectively.
Premier taxis were introduced in 1998 and executive taxis in 2007 with a starting fare of RM6, RM36 per hour and RM2 per km. In 2009, budget taxi rates were increased to RM3 starting fare, RM17.14 per hour and 87 sen per km, and per hour rate for executive taxis reduced to RM34.28.
Teksi 1Malaysia (TEKS1M) was introduced in 2014 to replace all budget, premier and executive taxis, as there were too many classes of metered taxis. The selected model was the Proton Exora, which is more comfortable and spacious than the Proton Saga.
Causing confusion to locals and tourists alike
About 10 years ago, cheap vans around the price of the Exora were licensed as executive taxis. After the Exora was launched in 2009, some taxi drivers opted to operate the model as budget taxis. As such, fares for the same model differ according to taxi class, causing confusion to locals and tourists alike.
The last fare hike was in 2015, with budget taxi rates increased to RM3 starting fare, RM25 per hour and RM1.25 per km; TEKS1M at RM4, RM30 and RM1.50 respectively;hired cars at RM1.25 per km; and executive taxis remaining unchanged at RM6, RM34.28 and RM2 respectively.
There was no revision for premier taxi and this category has since been phased out by Spad. Taxis based at airport use the coupon system and rates are fixed according to zones, but fares can be unfairly high for those just beyond a nearer zone.
In the late 1960s, several tour and car rental companies approached the Registrar and Inspector of Motor Vehicles to introduce limousine taxi permits. Rates for limousine taxis are not regulated, similar to tour buses and vans licensed under Bas Persiaran.
In the 1970s, licensing of commercial vehicles was taken over by the Road Transport Licensing Board, which was later renamed Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board, and continues to operate in Sabah and Sarawak.
Spad is retaining limousine taxis and hired cars, while converting all metered taxis to one class.As for taxis based at airports, they could be metered taxis, hired cars or limousines, and the coupon system has more pros than cons.
Unlike old mechanical taxi meters and speedometers that are linked by cables connected to the vehicle’s transmission, these modern gadgets use electronics.
Decades ago, drivers and mechanics could tamper with mechanical taximeters and odometers but electronic versions are beyond their expertise. However, trained technicians can recalibrate them.
It would be wise to retain the coupon system, as it will eliminate fears or complaints that taxi drivers took a longer route from the airport.