IT IS no surprise that those without a clear understanding of taxi services in peninsular Malaysia can be confounded as there are seven types of taxis, with metered budget taxis the most common.
They are based mainly in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang and Johor Baru, with very few in Malacca and Terengganu, and none in Perlis, Kedah, Perak, Negri Sembilan, Pahang and Kelantan.
Then there are non-metered taxis licensed as “hire car” and found in every state.
Where there are metered taxis, hire cars are mainly used for outstation trips.
Similar to express buses, they operate from taxi and bus stations.
Premier taxis were introduced in 1998, executive taxis in 2007 and Teksi 1Malaysia (TEKS1M) in 2013.
Premier taxis were recently phased out by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) and only TEKS1M permits will be granted upon the expiry of current executive taxi permits.
Airport taxis are based at designated air terminals and limousine taxis can only operate from the base stated in the permit.
Obviously, the conditions attached to these seven types of taxis vary, and kudos to SPAD for amalgamating all three metered taxis – budget, premier and executive – into TEKS1M.
The plan to replace limousine taxis and airport taxis offering premier service and family vans with the new Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) permits also ought to be lauded.
This is because not all limousine taxis are based at hotels to serve in-house guests.
Tour companies were the first to be granted limousine taxi permits to license their tour cars, which were used to pick up tourists from wherever they are, and not just from one hotel.
For several decades, tour cars were not stopped by enforcement agencies until a designated base was included in limousine taxi permits, and tour companies continue to be summoned to this day for picking up tourists from the airport, hotel or outstation.
The base for many of these limousine taxis are tour companies’ offices or garages.
It is ridiculous for tourists to travel there to board a tour car.
A designated base will not be included in the new PHV permit with excise duty expected to be waived.
Currently, the only taxis not granted excise duty exemption are limousines.
As such, tour operators are eagerly waiting for SPAD to roll out PHV permits and many will operate luxury models to cater to Free Independent Travellers, who comprise more than half of foreign visitors to our country.
Many tour companies are also using vehicles licensed under “Hire and Drive.”
Initially, they were meant only for self-drive where the customers hire and drive the vehicles.
About 12 years ago, Tourism Ministry – which was issuing and renewing these permits – allowed “Hire and Drive” vehicles to be used for chauffeur-drive as tour companies encountered problems in obtaining and renewing limousine taxi permits, which were under the jurisdiction of the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board.
But in August last year, SPAD pronounced that “Hire and Drive” vehicles were no longer allowed to be used for chauffeur-drive, leaving many tour companies in a bind.
The best recourse is for SPAD to release PHV permits without further delay and issuing them liberally will promote tourism, attract high-spending tourists and curb illegal chauffeur-driven services.
When these are in place, the authorities should then crack down hard on illegal operators.
As for mobile apps, the most controversial are the ones operated by transportation network companies (TNCs).
My views on TNCs are shaped by media reports.
For example on March 22, SPAD enforcement chief Datuk Paduka Che Hasni Che Ahmad was reported to have said “From last October to now, we have impounded 28 cars offering illegal transport services to the public. Of the 28, 11 are privately owned.”
It should be noted that the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence is just a vocational driving licence and those driving with a PSV licence do not necessarily mean the service is legal.
For example, 17 of the 28 cars seized by SPAD were commercial vehicles that were not licensed for chauffeur-drive.
All licensing are conditional and regulations are subject to changes.
Amendments to the Land Public Transport Act will be tabled in October to regulate mobile apps offering public transport.
It would be advisable for mobile app companies to engage with SPAD or an unbiased consultant to get the true picture.
I regard the majority of non-licensed taxis, being newer, are safer than old licensed taxis, and the passenger risk cover mandated by law hardly offers any protection for injured passengers.
For example, there is no insurance cover if the taxi was driven under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and injured victims have to wait many years for a court award to receive compensation from the insurance company, if at all.
A personal accident insurance cover for a specific sum, which at times may not be adequate, is anytime better as compensation can be paid out speedily without having to establish fault.
I prefer total deregulation of the taxi industry but this will not be possible for several reasons.
It would be inhumane to let 80,000 taxi drivers and their families to fend for themselves and if the taxi industry was deregulated, what is next and where would it end?