Dec 10 2012
Of all the scams to watch for in Phuket, the taxi rip-off deserves special mention. Anyone who has travelled through any other part of Thailand will be shocked the first time they hire a Phuket taxi or tuk tuk, which can be four or five times more expensive than trips of a similar distance in Bangkok or elsewhere.
Though this is one of the biggest complaints by tourists to Phuket, it seems unlikely to change any time soon. The taxi and tuk tuk “collectives” have long had an iron grip on the island’s transport services.
Greed and territorial attitudes have stymied all attempts to create an affordable, island-wide public transport service. Phuket’s various groups of drivers operate like little fiefdoms and anyone trying to do business on their patch will be run out of town. Thus, tourists needing a ride from one beach to another are charged an amount that covers the cost of not only for their trip there, but also the return trip of the empty taxi since the driver will be barred from picking anyone up at their destination.
The choices for taxi service are the tuk tuks, which in Phuket are four-wheeled open-air Daihatsu vans, official green-plate taxis and unofficial black taxis. The latter could be anyone from a private service operating from a guesthouse to Mr Somchai down the road who sees that you need a lift and has a bit of time to spare. Regardless, there’s little difference in price no matter which option you choose. There are metered taxis, too, which are slightly cheaper, but good luck finding one beyond their stand just outside the Phuket airport arrivals hall.
Some current fare examples: To get from one west-coast beach to another expect to pay minimum 400-500 baht, while taking a taxi or tuk tuk from one side of Patong Beach to the other will be 100 baht at least. A ride from the Tesco-Lotus superstore to Central Festival Phuket shopping mall, a trip of less than two kilometres down the bypass road, costs 200 baht.
If taking a tuk tuk or taxi, it’s essential to negotiate a fare in advance to avoid having a nasty surprise at the end of your journey. Check, too, if the fare quoted is for the ride or per passenger.
If you do end up getting ripped off, try to keep your cool. Fare disputes have turned violent on a few occasions in Phuket.
Another thing to watch for: Phuket visitors needing a lift might alternatively be offered an incredibly low fare for their tuk tuk trip, something like 10 or 20 baht, or even a free ride. But then on the way to their destination they’ll inevitably be told about some great shops that the driver needs to stop at first. They might end up spending hours being taken to a number of gem and souvenir shops where the driver will collect a commission at each stop along the way.
Unless you’re really strapped for cash — or you are actually interested in the shopping — the cost savings for a commission-fuelled tuk tuk trip probably aren’t worth the time and hassle.
There’s a small glimmer of hope in the Phuket taxi situation with an effort underway to register all the black taxis. Several cars now rove the island with a big sticker on the side displaying the driver’s name in English and Thai and a 24-hour helpline number 1584 (but dialling the number leads to a recorded message in Thai, so non-Thai speakers will need assistance).
Though this move does nothing to address the high prices, it’s a baby step towards accountability for Phuket taxi drivers, and hopefully the start of more changes.
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