Customers taking a taxi in Osaka, Japan.
A comparison between taking local taxis as opposed to taxis in foreign countries leaves much to be desired.
THE great thing about travelling is that it doesn’t just allow you to experience and understand different cultures, it also enables you to compare the way different people do the same things. With the extensive travelling I’ve done this year, I’ve got to see and think about some everyday aspects of life. Sometimes, Malaysia compares favourably against the others. But there is one area in which we fare really badly. Taxis. Need I say more?
Of all the places I’ve been to this year, I have to say the best taxi service I’ve experienced was in Japan. Although they charge much more than most of their counterparts elsewhere in the world, they still win my heart and my respect. They get top marks for their manners, attitude and general quality of service. Their cars are always impeccably clean, both inside and out, they wear proper uniforms, are always very polite, drive safely, use the meter (without being asked to) and are helpful. What’s more, they are also very honest. Once, a friend accidentally left her mobile in a taxi. The driver actually drove back to return the phone, and even apologised for not noticing it earlier!
Second place has to go to Singaporean cabbies, who are not only famous for their cleanliness but – like the Japanese – are very honest and law-abiding. I like their attitude!
In England, there is the famous black cab, which I love taking whenever I’m there. The drivers are gentle, clean, polite and helpful. But what’s really impressive is their knowledge of all the streets and their ability to get you from A to B in the shortest possible time. It’s almost as if they have wired-in Waze in their brains! The fact is, all cabbies have to pass a stringent test on London roads and routes before they get their license. Given how big London is, this isn’t easy.
In fact, throughout Europe I’d say cab drivers are generally good. Closer to home, just further south of Singapore you can get good Blue Bird taxi drivers in Indonesia. But here in Malaysia? Everyone’s had so many issues and bad experiences with taxi services, I wouldn’t even know where to begin! I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if we have the worst taxi service rating in the world. Let me just recount a couple of recent experiences when taking taxis to and from our airports.
On one trip to KLIA, our driver decided to take us on “a city tour” before finally heading to the airport. What should have taken only 35 to 40 minutes from Petaling Jaya lasted almost two hours. There was no traffic, nor any accident. And although I told him which routes to take, he kept insisting that he knew what he was doing and that I should let him get on with his job. I couldn’t believe it – but what can you do when you’re in such a situation? Even worse, after I made a complaint to his company, no action was taken. Perhaps the fact that Dirk was with me, he thought that we were foreigners.
Our taxi drivers certainly seem to delight in taking visitors to Malaysia for a ride. One foreigner we met on the way to Pangkor Laut told us that he lost his backpack when he left it in a taxi while going to check the ferry timetable. The driver had promised to wait for him, but guess what? He drove off and never came back.
Last week, returning from a trip, Dirk and I decided to take a taxi home from Subang airport. We bought our taxi voucher and were queuing in the line, like the others. We noticed a few non-uniformed guys going up to people in the line, asking them where they are heading to. At first, I thought they were just helping out the taxi drivers. Then I saw a hired taxi with two passengers inside take in someone from the middle of the queue. And it struck me that the idea was to make more money by squeezing in as many passengers as possible in one go. When the guy approached us, Dirk refused to tell him where we were going and wouldn’t let him see our voucher either. Needless to say, the guy was not at all pleased and complained about us to the drivers.
If we truly want to be taken seriously as a tourist destination, we need to think about cleaning up our taxi service. Taxi drivers are one of the first interfaces of a foreigner arriving at our airport. Making a bad impression right at the start does not bode well for a pleasant holiday.
As consumers, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be very much that we can do other than to walk out of a cab when the taxi driver refuses to use his meter. Sometimes, we don’t even do that because we’re rushing and don’t want to risk not getting another cab for a while. It really is time the authorities do something about this. Like our public toilets, the situation is atrocious and reflects extremely badly on the country.
We all hear the refrain Malaysia boleh. I hope we truly live up to that expression and do something about this.
■ Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi tries to marry consumerism and materialism with environmental consciousness. She believes her greatest creations are her children. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.