Phuket taxi drivers protest against rise of illegal taxi apps

Photo courtesy of Phuket News

A sea of yellow and green licence plates flooded the grounds of Phuket Provincial Hall yesterday, December 21, as taxi drivers from all over the province assembled in protest.

They demanded a crackdown on illegal taxi app drivers, who they contend are infringing on their once unchallenged dominion over tourist transportation.

At the forefront of the protest was Tinnakorn Chommuang, the president of the Phuket Provincial Taxi Operators Association, who rallied the taxi drivers in a bid to draw attention to their cause. They claimed that over 3,500 taxi vehicles had amassed at the hall, a figure that appeared to dwarf the 2,429 vehicles officially registered with the local authorities just a week prior.

The taxi drivers’ grievances were manifold. They sought intervention from the Department of Land Transport office in Phuket Province, also known as the Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO), and other related agencies, citing issues with unauthorised vehicles transporting passengers. Additionally, they highlighted the issue of foreigners transporting tourists under the guise of being friends or family.

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The outcry of the taxi drivers had been disregarded for far too long, they claimed. Despite numerous complaints to the Governor’s office, Phuket officials, and the police, no action was taken. Now, they called upon PLTO Chief Adcha Buachan, known for supporting Phuket’s taxi cartels, to address the issue directly with the Department of Land Transport Director-General.

According to the protesting taxi drivers, their demands were simple: Phuket Governor Sophon Suwannarat must order an immediate crackdown on illegal taxis, and enforce the law requiring taxi app vehicles to display government-issued stickers that identify them as app taxis.

Illegal taxis crackdown

However, the governor seemed to be one step ahead. It was revealed that Sophon had already ordered a crackdown on illegal taxis, and the PLTO reported that it was already in the process of targeting taxi app drivers.

Despite the protest, Sulaimarn Kaewngamdee, one of the leaders, clarified that he was not against app taxis. His concern was with app taxis from other provinces and pickup trucks registered as RY18 taxis, as well as private vehicles being used as taxis and improperly dressed drivers. He called for justice for yellow and green licence plate operators and tuk-tuk drivers, to maintain order and reduce traffic congestion, reported Phuket News.

This assembly came on the heels of a distressing incident involving a green plate taxi. Only two days prior, a taxi ran a red light, hitting a 28 year old Ukrainian motorcyclist named Artur Kostenko, who was left seriously injured.

The PLTO, under Adcha Buachan, has yet to decide on the course of action against the taxi driver involved in the accident. In addition, Adcha has made no public comment regarding the punishment, if any, for two green plate taxi drivers who assaulted a Grab taxi driver, leaving him hospitalised with a punctured lung.

The protest and the lack of action from the officials, including the PLTO and Adcha Buachan, coincide with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s visit to Phuket for a three-day holiday with his family.

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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