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THE Land Transport Commission’s (SPAD) Taxi Industry Transformation Programme (TITP) announced 11 measures, promising to deliver a much improved industry that, firstly, consumers will find satisfactory and, secondly, fit neatly into an integrated public transportation network. In its endeavour to guarantee the welfare of drivers, an option to leave the leasing arrangement with operators will be facilitated. Drivers can either opt out of the industry or remain using their own vehicles for which the government will be providing a grant of RM5,000 as seed money. Already, an allocation of RM150 million has been promised for the purpose, but the taxi drivers are asking for a revolving fund to assist in securing loans.

To be fair, RM5,000 does not even begin to scratch the surface when buying a good car. Granted there are financing arrangements that provide 100 per cent loans, but terms and conditions of repayment are burdensome. For monthly repayments to be “affordable”, the loan period will have to extend over the maximum nine years, during which, what is to all intents and purposes a commercial vehicle, will cease to fulfil the function. A shorter financing period means heavy monthly repayments, which must naturally translate to long hours of work. Given that it is a heavy commitment, the request for some assistance in addition to the grant should be approved if the welfare of taxi drivers is genuinely a consideration of the TITP.

The TITP is keeping its promise of modernising the industry, creating a level playing field and turning it into a consumer-friendly service. Nonetheless, the emphasis on regulations, like determining the acceptable models of cars, hints at a compulsion to control. Going by what is already happening in the e-hailing business, the emphasis is on road worthiness, comfort and maintenance, which naturally excludes small cars. Any consumer complaints in this regard will jeopardise the driver’s eligibility. To set limits on what models and make can be used, therefore, smacks of preference for specific manufacturers, thus opening avenues for corruption. Manufacturing companies must not be allowed to tamper with the industry.

Regulation must be restricted to ensuring passenger safety primarily, and not ones that restrict the efficiency of the industry. Screening of drivers, therefore, is absolutely essential. A registry of offenders — for driving offences, assault and battery, sex crimes, theft and, of course, murder — must be put together by the police and access be given to companies for vetting purposes. Foreign nationals should be either barred completely from joining the fraternity of taxi drivers or tightly controlled, given the expected dearth of Malaysians willing to continue with the leasing arrangement on the one hand and, on the other, operators with their idle fleets. Once the industry is rationalised to benefit drivers, consumers and operators, it should be the preserve of Malaysians, for it promises to be very lucrative once public transport becomes the preferred mode of travel. As the popularity of Uber and Grab shows, the public want a taxi service, but one that is value for money, and safe.

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