MALAYSIA - Raising taxi fares is a very touchy topic with the Malaysian public. And so, in view of a forthcoming move to review taxi fares, the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) has begun engaging the public via its Consumers and Taxi Industry Interaction Programme which was launched on Oct 18 by SPAD Chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Syed Jaafar Albar.
SPAD chief executive officer Mohd Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal says this is a move "which has never been done before".
"This unprecedented effort to interact and engage with the public shows that SPAD is committed in getting the stakeholders' involvement and participation in deriving future policies," he says.
Immediately after the launch of the Consumers and Taxi Industry Interaction Programme, three focus group discussions were held with various groups representing the public and the taxi industry from within and around the Klang Valley.
The first seven focus group discussions were concluded on Oct 21. Since the launch on Oct 18, similar focus group discussions have been held in Penang and Johor Bahru while briefing sessions have been conducted in Melaka and Ipoh.
"The participants included representatives from consumer groups, the disabled community, the tourism and hospitality industry, academics and transport-related NGOs, student associations, as well as taxi operators and drivers. Some of the student groups represented during the discussion included those from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Shah Alam, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Olympia College, Raffles University Iskandar and Politeknik Sultan Ibrahim.
"The message from these discussions is clear: the taxi industry has much room for improvement. Those involved need to provide better services at par with their international counterparts," says Mohd Nur Ismal.
UiTM student Mohammad Nor Fahmi Abd Rahim, who participated in the focus group, agrees, saying: "There are many taxi problems today. Taxi drivers tend to overcharge, especially at the high-end areas, and also for areas where they don't want to go."
Taxi driver Yazid Mohamad Yusof acknowledges there are problems within the taxi industry.
"Some drivers monopolise areas, and there are drivers who are not disciplined. They need to follow the guidelines set by the taxi associations so that there is consistency among the drivers," says Yazid.
"Also, I believe that the coupon system is not suitable because it's a form of monopolising an area as well. This system doesn't allow other taxis (that don't use the coupon system) to service an area. I believe if all taxis use the meter system, that should be sufficient," he adds.
Mohd Nur Ismal believes the solution to the current taxi woes can be solved via a two-pronged approach.
"The first is that the fares need to reflect the actual cost of operations rendered while providing a fair return to the drivers and operators. The last taxi fare review was conducted in 2009," he highlights.
"Since then, taxi operating costs have increased, as has the cost of living. Thus a review of these actual costs is opportune and timely."
Based on the last review, budget taxis in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru have an initial charge of RM3 (S$1.17), while taxis in Penang charge an initial amount of RM4. The taxis have a distance charge of 87sen/km, and a time charge (if the vehicle does not move) of 10sen/21 seconds.
Premier taxis have an initial charge of RM4, a distance charge of RM2/km, and a time charge of 20sen/45 seconds.
Executive taxis have an initial fee of RM6, a distance charge of RM2/km, and a time charge of 20sen/21 seconds.
Charges for airport taxis vary depending on the zones.