A new law requiring xe om drivers to wear official name badges remains unknown and confusing
A xe om (motorbike taxi) driver waits for passengers outside a shopping mall in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. A new regulation that took effect on January 1 requires all xe om drivers to carry a registered name card.
Thach Thong hopes that having a badge with his name and personal information pinned to his shirt will mean more customers.
"This can improve our image," said the 63-year-old man who has been working as a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver near Dam Sen Amusement Park in Ho Chi Minh City's District 11 for the past 20 years.
At the beginning of this month, a municipal regulation requiring all xe om and xich lo (pedicab) operators to wear name badges, took effect. The law will also apply to the operators of three-wheeled vehicles that are often hired to transport heavy materials.
Like some xe om drivers throughout the city, Thong has applied for his badge.
Unlike Thong, many drivers either don't know about the new regulation or find it confusing.
Some complained that no one had told them to apply for the badges, even though a law requiring that they have one has already taken effect. Others say they fear exorbitant fines and byzantine paperwork.
Local officials report that applications are beginning to trickle in while enforcement agents say they have not yet received the order to fine unlicensed operators.
The city has not yet released an official count of the number of xe om drivers, but such a figure would be hard to produce. Old men lying recumbent on parked motorbikes can be found on most street corners, awaiting customers, at any hour of the day. Indeed, they have become part of the urban landscape.
Officials from the HCMC's Department of Transport said they have distributed 6,630 license applications to ward-level administrators who are charged with collecting information from drivers and issuing the physical licenses.
"Only 69 of the city's 332 wards have reported the number of xe om drivers," said Le Hai Phong, an official at the Transport Department.
Given the city's limited understanding of this population, it's hardly surprising that few freelance operators are aware of the new statute.
Son, a 67-year-old xich lo driver who often waits for passengers near Binh Tay Market in District 6's Ward 2 was shocked when asked about the license requirement.
"Only poor people drive xich lo," he said. "How can they issue such complicated regulations and fine us [for failing to comply]?"
Not so far from Son, at a rice trading street near Cho Lon Bus Station in District 5's Ward 14, many drivers were busy loading goods onto their three-wheel bicycles and motorcycles. None of them were aware of the new regulation.
Binh, an official at Ward 14's People's Committee, the local government, said they have handed out a little more than 20 license applications so far. All of the applicants have been xe om drivers.
Binh said licensing for xe om drivers is underway, but she didn't appear to know when licenses for xich lo and three-wheel vehicles would become available.
"We have reported the number of names card applications to the higher authorities," she said, adding that her ward has yet to issue any cards.
No fines for now
Transport Department inspectors, traffic police and district and ward-level people's committee agents have been charged with enforcing the new regulation. So far, agency representatives say they have yet to organize related patrols.
"We were not told to fine xe om drivers who lack official ID badges," said Ngo Quang Chanh of the city's Traffic Police Division. "It's unclear when it will be enforced."
An official from the Transport Department confirmed that they have yet to fine violators of the little-known law. He said they are "facilitating the process of issuing licenses."
Nguyen Ngoc Chinh, vice chief police of District 1's Cau Ong Lanh Ward, said they have issued 219 licenses for xe om drivers operating in the area and are ready to accept further applications.
However, many xe om drivers in the city are still concerned that the new regulation requires them to submit a copy of their household registration or temporary residence book.
Trung, a xe om driver who typically operates on Bui Minh Truc and Hoang Minh Dao streets in District 8, said he had migrated to the city from a nearby province and he doesn't have a temporary residence registration.
"I know many other drivers like me," he said. "I don't know what we're supposed to do."