Recent surveys have painted Bangkok as one of the best entertainment cities in the world, yet that brings little joy to residents seeking basic conveniences to live a normal life.
Afemale passenger tries to wave downa taxi. More than 11,000 passengers have filed complaints to authorities in the past six months over taxi drivers refusing to accept a fare. PARITTAWANGKIAT
Taxis are probably the worst example of everyday frustrations for Thais - as well as some foreigners - especially in the major entertainment and tourist areas such as Siam Square, Pratunam and Patpong.
"When my friend was at Pratunam last week, at least 10 taxi drivers refused to take her home," said Julie Sawangarun, president of Taxi Thai Hua Jai Inter Club.
Her friend had to wait for more than half an hour to catch one, said Ms Julie, a taxi driver who has been trying to improve the image of the industry for many years.
This is just one example of the frustrations which Bangkok residents, Thais especially, encounter on a daily basis.
In the past six months, the Passenger Protection Centre run by the Land Transport Department has received 11,616 complaints about taxi drivers from a total of 18,464 made through the centre's 1584 hotline.
Traffic police have recorded about 200 similar complaints made through their 1197 hotline.
Refusal of service by drivers has reached 80% of complaints made through the smartphone Taxi Reporter application.
Ms Julie said some drivers have legitimate reasons for refusing to pick up a passenger. However, some choose to refuse Thais because they would rather take foreigners, whom they overcharge.
Their meters are often turned off when they have foreign passengers.
Last September, traffic police added the charge of refusing to pick up passengers to the list of traffic violations.
The law says that a taxi driver who refuses to pick up a passenger will be fined a minimum of 1,000 baht, or be punished by having 20 traffic penalty points added to his licence.
When enough penalty points are accumulated from repeated breaches of the law, a driver stands to lose his licence.
However, if a driver feels a passenger is suspicious or might harm him, then an exception is made if he refuses to take the person.
Ms Julie supports the law and is working with members of the Taxi Thai Hua Jai Inter Club to organise training programmes for 800 club members.
The programme includes language training, awareness of the Asean Economic Community which will be introduced in 2015, increased general knowledge and improved overall skills to ensure drivers provide the best service to every passenger regardless of who they are.
Though these 800 drivers are more likely to work hard at providing a good service, they represent only a small number of the total.
The Transport Department says almost 135,000 people have obtained public-transport driving licences in Bangkok.
Ms Julie says only about 10,000 drivers have joined proper taxi groups such as her club and standard taxi cooperatives.
Joining a group encourages taxi drivers to behave well because they have to go through consistent training. They are also watched over by other members to ensure they behave, she said.
Unfortunately, she added, many individual taxi drivers have thrown their lot in with taxi mafia groups whose only aim is to rip off passengers rather than give the best service.
She said many rent vehicles from individual owners which makes it difficult for the authorities to track them down.
Land Transport Department deputy director-general Asdsathai Rattanadilok na Phuket said only about 3,000 taxi drivers of the 11,616 who had complaints against them over the past six months had been fined.
One of the main problems in trying to press charges against errant drivers, Mr Asdsathai said, was that many passengers had failed to supply sufficient information such as the taxi registration number or the licence plate.
He said the limited number of officials available to police transgressions was another barrier to efforts to clean up the industry.
"Only 18 staff are responsible for complaints delivered to the passenger protection centre," he said.
Working with the police, the department is trying to boost its manpower to carry out patrols while enforcing the law.
"Some drivers don't accept the regulations [to charge taxi drivers who refuse passengers]," Mr Asdsathai said. "They are more focused on taking advantage of passengers."
Two weeks after the law took effect in September, resistance emerged from some taxi groups.
A leader of a taxi network offering services at Suvarnabhumi airport, Sadis Jaitiang, said some drivers ended up in trouble as a result of the law.
"Many taxi drivers were fined even though they might have good reasons not to pick up passengers," he said.
Somchai Srisawat, who is stationed near Chatuchak Park, said the law was unfair.
"When I say gas is running out and I cannot take a passenger to a far-off destination, I do really mean it," he said.
"Is it fair to fine me in that case?"
On social media outlets, many people have asked whether the law can be enforced, pointing out the large number of taxi drivers registered in Bangkok and the difficulty of controlling them all.
As a taxi driver, Ms Julie is well aware of the difficulty in raising awareness, one key to solving the problem.
"It's important to create networks of good taxi drivers to be responsible for others, while working with the authorities to keep things in order," she said.
About the author
Writer: Paritta Wangkiat