COMPLAINTS about taxis are universal. Travellers have many horror stories to share about nightmarish cab rides abroad.
The scariest rides involve assault, robbery, and even murder. But most involve tales of cabbies taking passengers for a ride in the financial sense. However, while ripping off passengers with exorbitant charges occurs in many cities around the world, Kuala Lumpur occupies the unenviable top spot in many people's list of the world's worst taxi drivers. A poll by The Expat magazine in 2008, for instance, put Malaysia at the bottom of 23 countries, scoring badly in terms of the quality, courtesy and availability of taxi services. In December 2009, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz revealed that rude and dishonest taxi drivers had supplanted stinking lavatories as the pet peeve of tourists. And the "bad attitude" of local cabbies still remains the major grievance of foreign visitors, according to Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen last month. Nothing has also changed about the 2,500 complaints against taxi drivers last year -- the refusal to use the meter, overcharging, and picking and choosing destinations.
In this sense, there was nothing unusual about the taxi driver who made a British couple pay RM459.20 for the short trip from KLCC to their hotel in Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur, three months ago. KLCC is, of course, notorious as one of the hotspots where predatory taxi drivers monopolise operations syndicate-style, including using strong-arm tactics against those not part of their group, and manipulate fares. What, however, was unusual about this case of overcharging was that it was one of the first two to be charged in court under Section 75 (1) of the Land Transport Act 2010.
According to a news report last month, the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) was going to charge 95 taxi drivers in court for not using meters and inflating fares. This tougher line under SPAD makes a welcome change from the lacklustre enforcement and light compound fines under the watch of the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board. There is a need to continue the undercover operations at the locations favoured by the cheating cabbies and taxi touts, and to take them to court for the simple reason that the public won't be persuaded to lodge reports otherwise. But the courts should also do their part and impose deterrent sentences. As it is, the taxi driver does not appear to have paid a heavy price considering that he overcharged by 57 times but escaped with a fine only double the inflated fare he extracted.