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Opinion: Moving public transportation forward

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PHUKET: More glimmers of hope have emerged that the days of the island’s notorious ‘tuk-tuk and taxi mafia’ may be numbered.

Issues of democratic development aside, one of the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO’s) greatest achievements has been its no-nonsense approach in breaking up the tourism-killing stranglehold that thuggish, self-entitled transport syndicates have maintained over the island for at least a couple of decades.

While the battle continues, it is important to consider the underlying social constructs that allowed such a situation to develop in the first place.

In a recent report, the Gazette provided some chilling information about the proliferation of teenage gang violence following the tragic killing of an innocent 15-year-old boy on the final night of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

Unlike in Bangkok, where youth gang affiliations are typically associated with vocational schools, the situation here in Phuket much better reflects the localized turf-war mentality that has ruined the island’s transport sector for years.

Given the lack of severe punitive measures for minors in the juvenile justice system, it is imperative that this social template be broken. It has no place in an international resort destination in 2015, especially as the island province claims to be ready to dawn the mantle as the ‘Tourism Hub of Asean’ when the terms of the Asean Economic Community take effect at year’s end.

Unbeknownst to many expat residents, Phuket’s well-deserved reputation as a tourist rip-off destination is just as prevalent among Thai tourists as foreigners – especially where public transport is concerned.

A glimmer of hope appeared earlier this week when police launched an investigation into a claim by a recently-arrived Thai tourist that her taxi driver abandoned her and a companion in Thalang after being picked up at the airport by a member of the Airport Limousine and Business Service Cooperative.

Interest in the case mushroomed after the victim’s Facebook account of her experience went viral. Although just a single incident, the subsequent investigation shows the rising power of the social media to expose such events and to exert influence over the law enforcement community, compelling them to take action.

Another step forward comes with the increasing popularity of smartphone applications that enabled taxi services like GrabTaxi and Uber, as well as the introduction of yellow-topped tuk-tuks offering 30-baht rides in Phuket Town.

Even more positive news came when the NCPO’s efforts to speed up the establishment of a light rail system for the island hit headlines this week.

While there are some technical concerns with the existing 23-billion-baht proposal, especially as it relates to Phuket Town, we fully endorse the introduction of a light rail service along the island’s main north-south corridor, with a loop linking it to Phuket International Airport.

Now is the best, and possibly last, chance for Phuket to take advantage of all these technological developments and to get the island’s public transport to move forward, relegating our shameful, mafia-dominated past to the history books.

If we don’t, there will no doubt be a whole new generation of self-entitled street thugs ready to slide into drivers’ seats to ensure that Phuket’s barbarians continue to prosper.

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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