A clutch of taxi firms make city travel a disagreeable experience
Tej Fernandez received some choice expletives that were "not very nice" from a cabbie in front of the Palace Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City's Nguyen Hue Street.
She had refused to pay the cabbie VND100,000 for a trip from Ben Thanh Market to the hotel that should have cost VND12,000.
For Fernandez, editor of the London-headquartered Plastics and Rubber Asia Magazine, this was not her first unsavory experience with taxis in HCMC during her stay here two weeks ago.
"Another taxi I took, also outside the Ben Thanh Market, wanted to charge me VND50,000 (for the same ride) but I refused to pay and he left me by the side of the road."
Both taxis were not from well-known companies and did not use the meter, Fernandez told Thanh Nien Weekly.
Another Swiss couple, who declined to be named said they were charged VND70,000 to go from Pham Ngu Lao Street in the backpacker area to Dong Khoi Street in District 1. The real cost could not be over VND20,000, said Cao Xuan Hiep, a Vinasun taxi driver.
Unmetered and illegal taxis have marked out their own territories in the backpacker area for some time now, and their "headquarters" is De Tham Street.
"They ban us and other [popular] taxi operators from entering that territory after 9 p.m., when the foreign clientele always peaks," Hiep told Thanh Nien Weekly.
Any taxi flouting the unwritten rules would get their comeuppance.
"Two months ago, a colleague of mine was assaulted and had his cab smashed after he tried to pick up a foreigner [in the prohibited area]," Hiep said.
Airport mafia returns
Last year, after Thanh Nien exposed the taxi monopoly at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in which only one operator could pick up passengers, many other operators have been allowed to enter the terminal.
But there has apparently been no let up in the rip-offs of foreign and domestic travelers using the airport.
Several foreign tourists have said they were made to two to three times the normal price for taxi rides. Drivers are also continuing the practice of refusing to turn on their meters, they report.
Gary MacDougall, a landscape architect working for Saigon Tourist company, said such experiences were not strange to him.
MacDougall said two months ago he had been asked for US$15 for a one way trip from Tan Son Nhat Airport to the Ngoc Lan Hotel in Tan Binh District, which was about 20 minutes away.
"Miraculously I got a driver who was independent of the touting vultures. I asked if he charged by meter. He said "˜Yes' but as soon as we took off with my bags on board, he demanded toll fees plus an extra VND 150,000 which he claimed he was charged by the mafia for parking," MacDougall said.
"When I said I was only going to pay by meter he threatened to stop and kick me out. However after saying he hated me he kept driving to the hotel, complaining about the VND150,000 all the way."
MacDougall said since he lives in Vietnam, he can understand the problem.
"But a tourist who arrives for the first time, particularly those who have had a long trip and are tired will be very upset with this kind of hassling."
An Australian Consulate staffer said a cabbie had turned the meter off in the middle of the way to Legend Hotel in District 1 and demanded VND300,000, failing which she would be asked to get off.
The buck's outside
Dang Tuan Tu, security manager at the airport, said the authorities were aware of the problem and have beefed up inspections on taxi operations at the airport.
"But what happens outside the airport is beyond our control. The HCMC Taxi Society, the Transport Department, and agencies concerned should shoulder the responsibility and ensure that the clients are protected," he said.
Foreign customers should call the Security Center hotline at (08) 3 848 5383/ext 3115 to report any fraud they encounter, Tu said.
He also advised that visitors opt for well known taxi companies like Mai Linh, Vinasun or Saigon Tourist.