Taxis at the busy intersection outside Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City. The author says the crackdown on shady taxis is destined to fail because of corruption.
Firstly, my feelings on the taxi crackdown or any other crackdown are that they are at best totally ineffective and at worst, a stupidly conceived vision of law enforcement.
Here is how crackdowns work: Firstly, criminals (taxis, Filipino card scammers, traffickers etc.) are allowed to operate with impunity mostly because they pay off the relevant corrupt authorities. Business as usual. Then for some reason, maybe a tourist gets injured of even killed or posts his/her ordeal on the Internet or the number of complaints on one particular crime reaches a critical mass, police institute the crackdown. Crackdowns usually last from one day to a week and during this time, all bets are off for the criminals.
Even if they have paid off the right officials, they are still fair game during the crackdown. This is just part of their business cost or risk. After the required amount of time, the required number of well publicized arrests or confiscations (or deportations in the case of the Filipino card scammers), it is back to business as usual.
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Ultimately, nothing changes, there is no lasting effect, hence the uselessness of crackdowns whether they are aimed at taxis, some form of traffic violators or whatever. For example, once a month, the police decide to crackdown on cars parking on busy streets during rush hour. They come around, hand out a few tickets (interestingly, after the offenders are ticketed, they are allowed to continue blocking traffic) then stand around for a while (during which time of course no one parks there) and then leave. As soon as they are gone, the private cars and taxis fill up the street again and everything is back to "normal."
It seems to me that the Vietnamese authorities go about law enforcement wrong. They attack the symptom instead of the cause. Suggestion: Find out WHY there are so many illegal scam taxis and crackdown on the root cause, not the effect. However, this method would most likely take money out of the hands of too many "important" people so I doubt that I will see this approach during my lifetime. Hence, nothing will change and useless crackdowns will continue.
My advice to newcomers getting taxis at the airport is to never ever put your luggage in the trunk (boot) where it can be held hostage until some special fee is paid. Make a big show of getting the plate number and the driver's ID number. If no ID is displayed, choose another taxi.
Tourists should be given a card with approximate charges to popular destinations. If you don't have a lot of luggage, walk over to the Domestic Terminal and grab the bus, get off anywhere and flag down street taxi or walk to the street and flag down a "normal" taxi.
If you are threatened by a driver, get out of the taxi and make as much noise as possible. When in the taxi take out your mobile phone and start talking loudly even if you have to fake it. Criminal drivers hate it when the passenger has outside communication.
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By A. Lincoln
The writer is an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City