Pattaya’s overhaul of motorbike-taxi sector stuck in neutral

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Nearly three months after being ordered to overhaul the city’s motorcycle-taxi industry, Pattaya officials still are nowhere close to reforming fares and registering drivers.

Officials from five agencies said Oct. 2 they had surveyed the entire region, finding 925 motorbike-taxi stands and 11,127 drivers. Beyond that, little has been done.

The National Council for Peace and Order – which almost immediately after seizing power in the May 22 coup shook up Bangkok’s motorbike-taxi sector – on July 15 ordered Pattaya officials to do the same. The plan is to register all the drivers, provide them numbered vests and enforce legal fares set by the Chonburi Transport Department.

Officials from five agencies surveyed the entire region, finding 925 motorbike-taxi stands and 11,127 drivers.Officials from five agencies surveyed the entire region, finding 925 motorbike-taxi stands and 11,127 drivers.

If successful, Pattaya tourists and residents would see a dramatic decrease in motorbike fares, with rides of under two kilometers or under – for example, a ride from Second and Central roads to the Pattaya Bus Station – costing 25 baht or less.

Currently drivers outside Topps supermarket at that corner charge 100 baht for a lift to the bus station.

The problem, officials said, is that Pattaya’s motorbike-taxi sector is infected with deep-rooted corruption and controlled by “Mafia-style” organized crime. Drivers fear local power brokers, even though they have to pay out large amounts of money for their vests and their slot at the taxi stand.

Sriracha Permanent Secretary Narissa Thipyangkul, whose office is working on the project with Pattaya City Hall, said drivers have refused to cooperate because they generally are poor and uneducated and fear that the local mafia gang will kick them off the taxi stand, costing them their income.

In Bangkok, taxi drivers are issued their vests – which basically is their franchise to work – by the city. While vests are handed down from one generation to the next, selling them outside the family is rare.

In Pattaya, private land owners issue the vests and operate the taxi stands. Narissa said many of the vest numbers are never registered with the city, so city hall has no idea who is providing the vital public transport, let alone check their backgrounds for criminal behavior.

The result is a thriving black market for taxi vests, with drivers hoping to operate on Beach Road forced to pay up to 100,000 baht. Having made that investment, drivers are loathe to do anything that might jeopardize their number.

Wang Keowstore, 44, said he has been a motorbike driver for a decade. When the Lopburi native got his first vest, it cost him 350 baht per day. He then decided to buy it outright for 100,000 baht on installment payments of 5,000 baht per month. But as competition has increased, covering his costs has become more difficult, he said.

New Banglamung Permanent Secretary Phongthasit Patjanan said that since the military junta ordered the city to reorganize the industry, officials have run head-first into the entrenched corruption, with drivers too scared to complain about the mafia gangs.

He said officials have identified who the lead criminals are and have warned them to stop their illegal actions.

Phongthasit said the city is moving forward with issuing new vests to drivers and will do random checks on taxi stands to see if the influence of organized crime has abated.