Have you ever taken a ride in a taxi that emitted unpleasant smell, and in which the seats were uncomfortable? Have you encountered a situation in which a taxi driver refused to use the fare meter and charged an exorbitant fare for the ride?
These are some of the complaints against Malaysian taxi drivers. In fact, these complaints do not just come from the locals, but also from tourists.
These scenarios paint a negative image of the Malaysian taxi drivers, particularly those operating in the Klang Valley.
Complaints from tourists from Japan, the Middle East and African countries have prompted LondonCabs.co.uk to label Malaysian cab drivers as the worst cab drivers in the world.
Ratestago.com is slightly lenient but it labels Kuala Lumpur cab drivers as bad cab drivers, after those in Phnom Penh and Jakarta. Yahoo also reports the same situation.
Are Malaysian taxi drivers really that bad? Or is it only a perception?
Kuala Lumpur Taxi on the Frontline
Taxi drivers are usually the first point of contact for tourists. In order to project a good image, taxi drivers need to be professional, said Senior Principal Assistant Director of the Tourism Ministry”s Industry Development Division, Noriman Rojulai. However, complaints have tarnished the image of taxi drivers, in which they have been labelled as harsh and rude, and sporting an untidy look etc.
Speaking to Bernama in his office, Noriman said that some of the taxi drivers have been reported to be involved in criminal acts such as robberies and sexual assaults.
Malaysia is a popular tourist destination, and it is ranked 9th, after France, the United States, Spain, China, Italy, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Germany.
Last year, the country’s tourism sector generated a turnover of RM 58.3 billion. 24.7 million visitors arrived in Malaysia, at the rate of 2,827 tourists every hour.
This figure is expected to increase by 2020, with 36 million tourists projected to arrive in the country, generating an income of RM168 billion, or 19.2 million every hour.
The Tourism Ministry felt the impact of the complaints against cab drivers, said Noriman. He said that in 2011, the ministry received 2,467 complaints regarding the bad behaviour of cab drivers, overcharging of taxi fares and failure to use fare meters.
“Tourists are only aware of the Tourism Ministry. They are not aware of the Road Transport Department (JPJ) and the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD). So, they bring their complaints to us.
“To improve the image of taxi drivers, we have organised the Tourism Taxi Ambassadors Programme,” he said.
Taxi as Tourism Ambassadors
In 2010, tourists spent RM6.2 billion on public transport, including taxis. In Malaysia, there are 79,571 registered cab drivers, with 33,000 in Klang Valley. Noriman said that the pilot project for the Tourism Taxi Ambassadors programme was launched in March, and it involved 4,000 cab drivers.
The programme involved 3,000 budget taxi drivers, 500 executive taxi drivers and 500 limousine taxi drivers.
“Even though it is still too early to analyse the results, the initial signs are positive, and taxi drivers involved in this programme have exhibited greater knowledge of the tourism industry.
“They have become motivated and have performed their duties according to the requirements of the tourists,” he said, adding that these taxi drivers can become role models for other taxi drivers.
These selected taxi drivers had to go through a one-day course on the country”s tourism industry, and they also had a dialogue session with the SPAD.
“We do not want the taxi drivers to become tour guides, but they should know the tourist spots,” he said.
In order to be selected for this programme, taxi drivers have to be between the ages of 21 and 65. In addition, they should not have a criminal record, and they should be non-smokers.
“They should have a valid Malaysian driving licence, and they should be able to converse in Bahasa Malaysia and English,” said Noriman, adding that their taxis should not be more than 10 years old.
The drivers are nominated by the respective taxi associations before being assessed by the assessment committee of the Tourism Taxi Ambassadors programme.
“After attending the course, taxi drivers become tourism taxi ambassadors.
“They will be given RM 100 for attending the one-day course,” he said. The tourism taxi ambassadors will be evaluated every six months, before their tenure is renewed.
During this period, they will be given RM 100 in allowance every month, and they will be evaluated by ministry officials on their service quality and ethics.
These taxi ambassadors will also be evaluated based on feedback given by the passengers. Inspections will be carried out to ensure that the vehicles are always clean, neat and in good shape.
One of the taxi ambassadors, Kumar, from Syarikat LCCT Taxi Services, said that he was happy to be selected as one of the taxi ambassadors five months ago.
He said that the programme has made him more responsible.
“The one-day course conducted by the Tourism Ministry has empowered us with the information that is required to answer the tourists’ queries.”