Wednesday, 18 February 2015
First time visitors to Koh Samui are frequently left with a nasty impression of Koh Samui as soon as they decide to flag down a taxi. People generally accept that taxis from airports are an exception, but when they discover that island-wide taxis are a total rip off they ask themselves, "Why do the taxis have a big sign on their roof saying 'meter' when they refuse to go on the meter?"
It is a question that everybody has asked. The answer appears to be that the taxis on the island are run by mafia cartels. The high fares are fixed; market forces are not allowed to apply. Any driver using the meter would soon be out of a job. It thus came as some surprise that in 2014 the NCPO (National Council of Peace and Order) announced that Koh Samui taxis must go on the meter. They would be allowed to start at 50 THB and also add a final 50 THB to the final meter charge, but that must use the meter or...
Or else? While the military junta has shown its executive teeth in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket, it seems that their edicts are ignored by the Koh Samui police force. It is easy to draw conclusions about why this is. Some points of consideration. Firstly, there are too many taxis on Koh Samui. Supply completely outstrips demand. This balance could be changed by setting up a license system just for Koh Samui that worked to a quota. Moreover, cheaper taxis (on meters) would soon encourage lots of visitors and ex-pats to use taxis instead of private cars, bikes and songthaews.
Another point of consideration is that most drivers don't own their own vehicles. They have to do as their employers tell them. While they risk being fined or having their license revoked for not using the meter, they risk losing their job if their employer get wind of them using the meter. The pricing fix will only work if no taxis break the monopoly.
There is a telephone line that unhappy customers can use to report taxis in Koh Samui charging too much. There are no official figures for how many calls they have received. At present a journey that would cost 100 Thai Baht in Bangkok costs 400 or more Baht in Koh Samui.
While costs are slightly higher for fuel etc. on Koh Samui this represents bad consumer value. The issue of low cost short journeys on a relatively small island penalises drivers that take customers short distances. The airport is privately owned and has done a deal with certain transport providers. They have another fixed price scheme that is also poor value for private taxis.
Thailand has always attracted people because of its air of freedom. It is a country that is famous for its gentle Buddhist manners and lack of regulation. The downside of this is that unscrupulous elements can embed themselves in seemingly secure positions in the ‘white’ economy. The new rulers in Bangkok are finding it difficult to overturn this state of affairs – making pronouncements and getting things changed are two entirely different matters.