By Tom Long
Over the most recent years, there has been a marked increase in
the number of proper taxi vehicles registered for hire here in Chiang Mai.
However, a vacant car-style taxi is still a comparatively rare sight on our
city’s streets; so why is that?
The more-prevalent local tuk tuks, bicycle rickshaws and songthaews (a pick
up truck converted into a mini bus) are a different matter – few would deny
that there are plenty of those, except perhaps when you really need one to
get home, after a late night out on the town!
But if you’re going a long way, if it is raining, if you have a lot of
baggage with you, if it is too hot, or if (like so many expats now living in
Chiang Mai) you are over retirement age and/or infirm, none of these cheaper
alternatives provides the comfort and safety to be found in a licenced taxi
car. That is...if you can find one!
I had been asking myself where these taxis are all day, since it is so rare
to find an empty one patrolling the city’s streets, in search of custom. The
answer is that scores of them spend most of the day, idle, awaiting arrivals
at the airport.
Why should they do that? The answer lies in the rip-off specially-high fares
charged for airport pick-ups. It is clearly worth their while to wait there
for hours, as just a couple of such airport transfers bring in a higher fare
income than would many-a shorter trip around town.
And then, on the rare occasions that you might be able to actually hail a
vacant taxi on the street, driver dishonesty too often comes into play.
Apparently, very few Chiang Mai taxi drivers are prepared to use the taxi
meter fitted in their cabs. That is illegal. They prefer to negotiate
rip-off fares of their own imaginings, starting in the hundreds of baht.
As a result, people don’t want to flag them down on the street; and they
have all the more reason to congregate, uselessly, at the airport: and I
mean by the score!
To remedy all this, Chiang Mai’s city authorities need to decrease the
specially-high airport transfer fees; and to instigate regular checks to
identify taxi drivers not using their meters on other routes – and to
sternly prosecute miscreants. A few exemplary heavy fines would go a long
way to encouraging more widespread usage of the official taxi meter.
And that, in turn, would make Chiang Mai an easier town to get around for
the elderly, the infirm, the hot, the wet, the baggage-laden and the lost –
all groups of potential customers who at the moment do not often get the
option of travelling by taxi, for the lamantable list of reasons given
Better-off tourists and business visitors often complain of the dearth of
taxis in downtown Chiang Mai, and with good reason. Were better provision
made, as suggested above, then tourist satisfaction rates would improve.