No blockade: Phuket taxis called to the rescue [Video Report]

PHUKET: Following the confusion at Phuket’s Deep Sea Port this morning (story here), it has come to light that the hundreds of taxis, tour vans and tuk-tuks at the gate to Phuket’s key port facility were called to the rescue of the thousands of US Navy servicemen and women looking to enjoy shore leave on the island.

The armada of local transport vehicles were called in after the regular bus organized to transport the sailors to popular tourist areas across the island failed to show up.

“Just because there are a lot of taxis here doesn’t mean we are blocking the port. We are actually just trying to help out,” said local village headman Narong Kumban.

“I found out that the Blue Sea Tour buses weren’t going to be running at about 6:30am, so I called in about 100 taxis to ensure sailors had transportation from the port,” he said.

The US Navy serviceman tasked with being today’s bus coordinator, who asked to be

named only as Glen, explained to the Phuket Gazette that he reported for duty dockside this morning to find hundreds of sailors queuing up to board the buses, which still had not arrived.

“I’ve not been informed if or when the buses will come. Some sailors simply don’t care to wait, and even though the bus fare would have been covered [by the US Navy] for them, they are free to go on their own if they don’t want to wait,” he said.

As soon as word got out that there might not be a bus coming any time soon to pick them up, the sailors quickly started dispersing in small groups, on foot and en route to the exit gates, where they were met with just as eager chauffeurs.

When the Gazette arrived at the scene shortly after 10am, the area in front of the port entrance was choked by about 200 “black taxi” drivers [regular citizens providing taxi services] standing beside their sedans, tuk-tuks and dozens of vans.

US Navy serviceman Nicholas, accompanied by five comrades, told the Gazette that he was thankful for these taxis, as they were “reasonably priced and friendly”.

“Yesterday, a friend and I took an all-day tour with our chauffeur, Mr Wat, who we met out here [outside the port gates]. We went to Patong and Phuket FantaSea, and he brought us back here – all for only 1,000 baht,” he said.

However, the taxi drivers inside the port area were charging much higher fares.

Nicholas, whose group was planning to do another day-tour around Phuket before returning to the ship tonight, said that he was initially quoted 5,000 baht from one “green plate” [legally registered] taxi inside the Deep Sea Port for a one-way trip to Patong.

“We thought we might find cheaper fares [outside] at the Deep Sea Port entrance, so we walked the quarter mile or so out the gates,” he told the Gazette.

Explaining his cheaper fares, Mr Wat told the Gazette, “These [here outside the gates] are my friends… We give a fair price and we do not cheat. Most of us are just local poor people.”

The cheaper fares suited Nicholas, who said he and his friends were on a budget of US$150 during their Phuket shore leave. (Click here for related business story.)

“Some of our friends, however, have budgeted to spend US$600 to US$700,” he added.

Phuket Marine Office chief Phuriphat Teerakulpisut explained to the Gazette that the buses failed to show up at the port this morning following a dispute between Blue Sea Tour and the company contracted by the US Navy to locally organize such services.

“However, I am more than glad to help moderate the situation and help them find a solution,” he said.

The Gazette has been informed that several high-ranking Phuket authorities are at the port today to find a solution to the dispute.

The supercarrier USS Nimitz and the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton, comprising total crews of about 6,000 sailors, will haul anchor and set sail from Phuket on Sunday.

— Orawin Narabal & Steven Layne

Phuket News
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