Central Festival Phuket takes over taxi management

PHUKET: The campaign to eradicate taxi mafias from Phuket took another step yesterday as Central Festival Management agreed to take over the management of taxis at the shopping center.

“We want Central Festival to be a model of taxi management for Phuket,” said Maj Natapol Ditsayatham, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) Chief Investigator for Phuket.

“We want every driver to be able to work freely without worrying about the mafia,” he said.

The news of the busy taxi rank being wrested from the grip of private operators came at a round of talks held at Starbucks at Central Festival, where Maj Natapol joined Phuket Vice Governor Chamroen Tippayapongtada and Central Festival Phuket General Manager and Marketing Director Wilaiporn Pitimanaaree.

When asked why the taxi operators were allowed to continue operating at the mall, Central Festival Phuket Operations Division manager Preecha Ritthiratree said, “I’m scared of them. If they have guns, what am I supposed to do?”

To this, Vice Governor Chamroen promised his support.

“Don’t worry, we’ll protect you,” V/Gov Chamroen said.

That pledge was followed by the same show of support from the DSI.

“We’ll be there to protect you, too. If Central faces any threats, they must let us know immediately, and we will respond,” Maj Natapol said.

“We have a rotating pool of 20 officers from Bangkok assigned specifically to resolve these cases, and we have officers temporarily stationed in Phuket as well,” he added.

The talks yesterday followed the head of the taxi rank at Central Festival, Pom Sukkasam, and his brother Sern being arrested and charged for extortion and using violence to force member-drivers to pay (story here).

They have denied the charges.

While Central Festival shopping mall management will take over taxi operations, what system they will use is not yet certain.

Ms Wilaiporn said she needs to discuss the issue with board members in Bangkok first.

“Maybe we will use a system already in place at our branches in Pattaya and Chiang Mai,” she said.

“We appreciate the help of local government in helping us become a mafia-free taxi model for Phuket,” she added.

Vice Governor Chamroen suggested Central use CCTV cameras to monitor taxi driver behavior.

“If we have CCTV at the pick-up point, we can record the customer-taxi driver interaction and monitor the taxi queue. It will also give us a record of which driver picked up which customer, and in case of violence we can consult the footage for information and use it as evidence,” he said.

Central Festival handling the taxi management would be similar to Suvarnabhumi Airport handling their taxis, said Chief Transport Technician of the Phuket Land Transport Office Jaturong Kaewkasi.

“Then there will no longer be a taxi concession that threatens customers,” he said.

“It will also make life easier for the drivers if Central management can represent them as they make their requests to us to become legal,” he added.

— Saran Mitrarat

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