Taxi reform required.
Malaysian taxi drivers are a national disgrace. They, singlehandedly, ensure that every visitor to Malaysia will be stolen from, cheated and predated upon. Since travellers have regular contact with taxi drivers, it is inevitable that they will go home, from Malaysia, with the impression that it is a nation of liars, cheats and thieves. Yet, this is not so, of course: it is the taxi drivers whose behaviour is unusually poor by the nation's standards - at least I am assuming so, based on my experience, so far.
It is negligent in the extreme and very short-sighted, not to do something serious about the level of dishonesty among taxi drivers, in Malaysia. You see, a nation's reputation is a great part of its natural capital. Without a good reputation for honesty, decency and fair dealing, Malaysia will compromise itself internationally. Now, of course, visitors to Malaysia may encounter fair dealing in many aspects of their visit - but if they frequently encounter dishonesty from taxi drivers, that can only leave a poor impression of the nation, in their minds. If Malaysia's leaders want Malaysia to "stand tall" in the world, they must, they absolutely MUST, stamp down on the dishonesty of Malaysian taxi drivers.
My experience the other day is typical of the situation in Malaysia. The situation here is a no-hoper for the customer. Whatever you do with the drivers, the customer loses out. I was in Bukit Bintang (KL's equivalent to Orchard Road). There were taxis parked everywhere. I approached about 20 of them and asked them if they would go "on the meter" - because I know that so many do not want to. To my displeasure, each and every one of the over twenty drivers I asked, REFUSED TO BE METERED FOR THE JOURNEY. They all quoted me fixed fares which were two to three times the price I knew was reasonable for the route. After ten minutes of asking drivers, I gave up on ALL the taxis parked in Bukit Bintang. Instead, I tried to flag one. After another ten minutes, I succeeded in flagging a cab. This one agreed to go on the meter, for which I was thankful. Little did I know that he would go off route, however.
Our driver took me on a giant detour through KL and its surroundings, though that wasn't clear at first. There were traffic jams, so I held my tongue, at first. However, after half an hour, on a journey that should have taken no more than fifteen minutes, I asked why I had seen no signs for our destination. "Yes, signs, have. Over there." he said, pointing into the distance.
I sat quietly waiting for these signs. After about another fifteen minutes, signs duly began appearing for our destination. However, he was travelling a route there, that I had never seen before.
In the end, the fifteen minute journey took one hour to complete and cost two or three times, the usual expected fare. My wife later made the same journey, at a third the time, and less than half the price.
So, here is another lesson about Malaysian taxi drivers. Whatever they do, they will almost always cheat you - especially if you are a foreigner. Either they offer you a fixed price well above market rate - or if you refuse that and find another driver willing to go on meter, they will take you on a giant detour and keep you in the cab several times longer than your journey actually requires. So, it is a case of heads you lose, tails you lose. Whatever happens, you will be cheated.
I should point out that I have met honest drivers. However, they are vastly outnumbered by the cheaters, liars and thieves who end up as cab drivers. I would estimate that, overall, about 70% of Malaysian taxi drivers are dishonest. In some areas, this reaches almost 100%, however. This is from the point of view of a foreigner. It is possible that they try to cheat foreigners more frequently, so this may not reflect a Malaysian's experience of taxi drivers - but it has certainly been my experience.
The situation, whilst problematic, is easily resolved, given political will. All that has to be done is for a penalty to be brought in against dishonest driving. If a taxi driver ever cheats a customer, in any way and that customer complains, then the driver should AUTOMATICALLY LOSE THEIR DRIVER'S LICENSE. They should also be BANNED FROM BEING A TAXI DRIVER, FOR LIFE. Should these two penalties be put in place, drivers would soon start behaving themselves. The ban on being a taxi driver would mean they would lose their livelihoods. The ban on driving is particularly ironic, since it would force them to take taxis and suffer at the hands of their fellow cheaters. That would soon teach them what it is like.
Teams of anonymous taxi inspectors should take cabs at random, looking for cheaters. These should be both Asian and European inspectors, to elicit different responses from the drivers, who may be preferentially cheating one type of customer. A single offense should automatically result in the two penalties being applied. There should be no leeway for the judge to decide on clemency, the penalties should be mandatory.
Were this done, Malaysian drivers would soon start behaving honestly. If this is not done, Malaysia will continue to mar its own reputation by allowing drivers to lie to, cheat and steal from every foreign customer they encounter.
I hope someone will listen and do something about it. The present taxi situation is a national disgrace.
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