The Phuket taxi situation has been under a microscope recently after accusations of taxi mafias, bad behaviour by drivers, and several outright brawls between cab drivers in front of tourists have blemished the reputation of Thailand and Phuket in particular. Another recent incident at the Phuket International Airport went viral on social media when passengers were asked to get out of a minivan and use an airport taxi instead.
While many bus stations and ferry piers have faced accusations that their exclusive arrangements with certain local taxi drivers constitute a taxi mafia, it has long been the case in Thailand and throughout the world that cabs must have special permits or licenses to enter airport terminals to pick up customers. Ride-hailing apps like Grab have thrown this practice into a grey area and stirred controversy.
A post on Thursday on social media showed an awkward encounter of employees of Phuket Airport stopping tourists from taking an arranged minivan, insisting instead that they use a specially designated airport taxi. The video was accompanied by a message explaining what happened.
“A minivan driver arrived at the airport to pick up customers who booked online. Airport staffers stopped the minivan at the airport exit before they asked the passengers who had booked online to get out of the minivan and take a registered taxi from the airport directly.”
Commenters online were outraged at the tourist being forced to give up their likely cheaper pre-booked transfer. They complained that denying options to newly-arrived tourists creates inconvenience, and drives up prices, hurting tourism. They argued that travellers should be allowed to choose for themselves how they want to leave the airport, whether it be by airport taxi, a ride-hailing app, or other means of transportation.
In response to the outcry on social media, Phuket International Airport released a statement explaining that someone had used a ride-hailing app to arrange a pickup, but that driver did not meet the regulations required for taxis in the airport.
“Yesterday (September 28) a minivan taxi arrived at the domestic terminal to pick up passengers who booked via an online application. The Phuket Airport is an aircraft control area as stated in the Ministerial Regulations. The minivan driver has offended the regulations. Taxi vehicles are not allowed to enter the airport except when they have permission from the airport. The airport has a registration system for taxi drivers. Regulations have been clearly communicated to passengers and taxi drivers.”
Meanwhile, a provincial meeting yesterday touted that the island has no shortage of public transportation options. There are 6,000 registered taxis in Phuket ready to serve tourists alongside 378 registered buses. The Joint Public-Private Sector Committee on Developing and Solving Economic Problems meeting chaired by Phuket Vice Governor Amnuay Pinsuwan discussed the state of Transportation. Representatives from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the tourism sector joined government officials at the meeting.
They identified a total of 11,351 public transport vehicles in Phuket. Interestingly, just 277 of those vehicles were metered taxis.
The list also included 518 minibuses and vans, another 518 tuk-tuks, 378 buses, and 6,342 “non-buses.” Attendees at the meeting stressed the importance for tourists to use the correct vehicles and travel in legally registered taxis and vans. They vowed to push for a public relations campaign to raise awareness.
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