TAXI drivers can be listed under three broad categories: the incorrigible, ordinary and excellent.
The first category is easily spotted at tourist places, standing near their taxis and in a group.
Some favour nightspots to prey on half-drunk passengers, charging them exorbitant fares or earning high commissions as pimps.
The taxi is used as a tool for exploitation and these drivers should be purged from the system.
Passengers looking for a taxi need to be streetwise. The better bet is to flag down a passing taxi than approach a cabbie touting on his feet.
There is a big difference between taxi queues where drivers are seated waiting inside their cabs and those where drivers are standing outside.
Under the current scenario, the pendulum of ordinary taxi drivers can swing from good to bad or hang loosely somewhere in the middle.
Many of them would improve when a good taxi system is in place. This can be achieved by educating passengers and training drivers, among other measures.
The common mistake by passengers is to ask a taxi driver “How much to...?”
This opening line will induce the cabbie to quote a fixed fare as the exact fare by meter can only be known upon reaching the destination.
Those who want to know the approximate cost of the trip and the meter to be used should be more specific by asking “What is the estimated fare using the meter to...?”
Interestingly, it is not always the driver that chooses to fix fares as many passengers, especially foreigners, do not wish to leave it until the end of the trip and pay according to the meter.
Some of them may have had nasty experiences in taxis with rigged meters and this can happen anywhere.
Therefore, passengers can still be ripped off by a cabbie who is more than happy to use the meter.
The correct way is to be polite but firm and treat the driver with respect which is usually reciprocated.
There are passengers who view all cabbies with disdain.
Upon opening the door, they would ask sternly “Meter?”
Many of my passengers are jolted when I hand them a printed slip that reads “I always use the meter. If you want a fixed fare, try another taxi”.
Excellent taxi drivers can be honest, reliable, courteous, humorous and knowledgeable but meeting one is a matter of luck.
Instead of leaving to chance, they should be identified, polished and placed in a pool of professional drivers so that the public can call a hotline to request for one conversant in a particular language or skill.
The training of ordinary drivers should be centred towards strengthening their character to handle challenging situations better.
This includes learning to love and respect themselves more so that they can do the same to others.
Viewing a documentary showing how taxi drivers in Japan treat their customers would be better than just talking about courtesy.
However, there is no need to follow their practice of refusing tips from passengers as everyone would be happier when tips are offered and accepted.
Tipping is the clearest way of showing appreciation and encouraging good service.
Likewise, good cabbies should be recognised and rewarded by the authorities.
A combination of carrot and stick is always the most effective method to overcome any challenge and this includes the development of good taxi services.
YS CHAN Kuala Lumpur
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