Wednesday June 27, 2012
Cabbies to fare better
By BARADAN KUPPUSAMY
The Prime Minister has made it clear he does not like companies to get too many taxi licences that they can lease out to drivers. He said it is a form of modern slavery' and wants to end it.
IN February, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim met some 1,000 taxi drivers at the Civics Centre in Petaling Jaya where he promised to help them if he takes over Putrajaya and becomes prime minister.
The Opposition Leader condemned the politically-connected taxi companies that held over 40,000 permits which they leased out for between RM35 and RM40 a day to drivers.
He then moved on across the country, making more promises as he rallied the alienated and disenchanted group to his banner.
But Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has caught on with Anwar's “promise game” and, at a rally of nearly 20,000 taxi drivers at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Sunday, the Prime Minister also made promises.
He came with some short-term carrots, including RM35mil to buy tyres worth RM525 for each of them to alleviate the real plight of taxi drivers. About 70,000 taxi drivers would benefit from this.
Along with this was an insurance scheme that provides various benefits.
Most important, however, Najib announced the new Teksi Rakyat 1Malaysia (TR1Ma) policy which will abolish the monopoly of taxi licences by private companies, which the prime minister described as a form of “modern slavery.”
Instead, the Government plans to issue licences directly to taxi drivers and this would happen within the next “one to two years”.
“I don't like to hear of companies getting too many licences. The era of giving them out to private companies will end. Under the new model, we will give licences to individuals and the taxi drivers' interests will be taken care of,” he said to the applause of the gathered drivers.
Very rightly, Najib wants to end the modern slavery but he asks the drivers for time to engage with the stakeholders.
Taxi drivers are an important support group for the Barisan Nasional in elections because they ferry voters on polling day, are the “eyes and ears” of the ruling party and help to spread the Barisan's messages to people who are their passengers.
It is an important and all-round activity rivalling that of the police.
But, in recent years and in recent elections, many taxi drivers had also performed the same functions for the Opposition out of disenchantment and the hard and unexciting work that comes with meagre rewards.
It is not that they make little but whatever they make has to be shared with the taxi companies, leaving the drivers with a paltry take-home income.
They sometimes work 16 hours a day or do two shifts at a stretch to make ends meet.
Thus, over the years, a leasing system developed that is owned by politically-connected individuals and companies that control the permits. A bunch of permits, which could reach 500 pieces at a time, was treated as a “parting gift” to political leaders or their cronies.
Over time, the system strangled the taxi service and led drivers to cheat tourists, switch off (or tinkle with) meters and charge exorbitant fares.
It will be wise for the 70,000 taxi drivers in the country to place their trust in Najib's new deal.
The prime minister had been constantly meeting alienated groups such as these taximen, and offering aid and cash to give them recognition.
He has been telling them that they are part of the Malaysian family and should not feel disillusioned or disenchanted.
The message to the orang asli, urban Chinese, Felda settlers, petty traders, young Tamils, Sabah and Sarawak ethnic groups, senior citizens and now the taxi drivers is the same.
Najib is saying, don't live in the past, come out of your cocoons of hate and let's build afresh.
This is the message he extols constantly in his almost daily tours of the country as he rallies the many disenchanted groups to his banner.
His aim is to win big not win narrowly which he says would cause endless politicking that the country could do without.