Sunday March 17, 2013
Ensure that taxis are safe at all times
The Star Says
HAILING a cab is a reality of city life. In all the big cities of the world, even those with excellent mass transport systems like Singapore, London, New York or Tokyo, the cab is an essential and iconic facility not only for the local population but also for visitors near and far.
The tragic incident involving the 25-year-old American tourist who was robbed and raped by two men after being taken on a 80km terror ride in a taxi is not only despicable, but has tarnished our image as a safe tourist destination.
The police have already picked up the suspects, and their investigations must be thorough so that the criminals get what they deserve.
In January, two men posing as taxi drivers abducted three Moroccan tourists at the Penang International Airport and drove them to an oil palm estate on the mainland where they were robbed and ditched by the roadside. And early this month, police in Kuala Lumpur said they have crippled a gang of robbers masquerading as taxi drivers with the arrest of four people.
What these incidents reveal is that the cab you hail may well become a journey into hell if the driver turns out to be one of these criminals. While we can say that they form only a small minority, it is still one rogue cab driver too many.
Following the latest incident, many have chipped in with their advice on how to ride safe. Commuters are advised to call for a cab, rather than just hail one off the streets, the reasoning being that since the call will be logged at a call centre, the details will be known if anything goes awry.
Then we are told to always remember the features of the taxi driver and also to take note of the registration number and permit number.
While these may all be good tips, we must not shift the duty of care solely to the commuter. As one reader rightly pointed out: “Taxis, irrespective of whether a commuter steps into one along the road or phones for one, should be safe for the public to travel in. There should be no question about it.”
And it's not just a question of safety but also of lawlessness where some of our cabbies are concerned. Just yesterday, this newspaper reported the brawl between a tourist and a taxi driver. The tourist apparently became fed up after stopping five cabbies who all wanted to charge exorbitant fares and lost his cool with the sixth one who tried to do the same.
The key issue that needs to be addressed is how the enforcers ensure that only legitimate taxi drivers are on the road.
Regular commuters in the Klang Valley will testify that there are many foreigners driving taxis openly on our roads. These people are easily identified by their accent.
In essence, they are providing a good service, but taxi operators who lease their vehicles to foreigners, or even to locals, must be held strictly accountable.
Our enforcers must be able to summon, at a moment's notice, the names of all the taxi drivers on the roads to ensure their legitimacy. There are many people, locals and tourists, who use the taxi daily. Thankfully, we still feel safe despite these isolated incidents.
But we must aim for the highest level of safety so that there is absolutely no phobia for anyone who is about to board a taxi, because they know they will reach their destination safe and sound.