Last month, Tran Thuy An got off a plane at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport and hailed a cab.
A Happy Taxi (a subsidiary of the Tram Thanh Company) pulled up to the curb and An stepped in.
Instead of turning on the meter, An said the driver demanded she pay an unreasonable flat rate. He also asked her for another VND30,000 to cover the airport's parking fee and gate toll.
Refusing to pay unreasonable money, An asked him to stop, but the driver locked the doors instead. An slammed banged against the windows and screamed for help.
Airport security officials rushed to help her. They later asked the Tram Thanh Company to ban the driver, Truong Hoai Bao, from doing business at Tan Son Nhat.
Airport rip-offs have become a common gripe among foreign and local travelers. The latest edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Vietnam advises travelers hailing taxis at the airport to "make sure that the driver agrees to use the meter and switches it on after you get in the car." The guide advises that most of these drivers "are OK."
So getting a bad one is merely luck of the draw.
A total of 11 taxi companies employing more than 6,000 licensed drivers have registered to operate at the airport.
Nguyen Van Bong, vice director of Vina Express JSC was among the unlucky.
Bong said he gave directions to the driver instead of telling him his destination. The driver of Comfort Savico Taxi began to quarrel and called the company for instruction.
"I heard on the taxi radio that someone from the central dispatch asked the driver whether I am a northern or southern man," he said.
"I heard the dispatcher tell the driver to charge me VND50,000 and throw me out when he heard that I was a northerner."
The quarrel began after Bong refused to pay the money. This time, he said, he heard the taxi dispatcher tell the driver to charge him VND100,000.
"I was seriously insulted by the way the taxi company handled the case," he said.
Bong's incident happened on September 20 but it was only until early this week, when Thanh Nien contacted Comfort Savico that Ha Ngoc Nam, a company representative, said they would summon that driver and ask him to write a report about the case.
"Our policy is to serve all passengers whether they're traveling short or long distances," he said. "Violators are strictly punished."
Passengers also complained about taxi drivers who demanded a few dollars only to dump them at the airport gates.
Tan, a resident of District 5, said he arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport late at night on a flight from Hong Kong early last month and hopped into a taxi.
The driver charged him VND30,000 after driving for less than a kilometer and refused to go on. The driver, Tan claimed, said he had to drive the car to the company's parking lot which was far from Tan's home. Taxi fare in HCMC is around VND10,000 per kilometer.
The Tan Son Nhat International Airport serves more than 40,000 passengers a day, not including the Tan Son Nhat International Airport pledges to banish firms that employ dishonest drivers estimated 100,000 family and friends who come to pick up or see off loved ones.
Naturally, many of them are foreigners and some taxi drivers have employed even more devious tactics to dupe them out of their money.
Ryuhei Shimasaki, vice chairman of the Japanese Business Association of Ho Chi Minh City (JBAH), said many members have complained about being ripped-off by taxi drivers at the airport.
Among the cases, Shimasaki said a Japanese businessman told him that his driver intentionally broke the meter and demanded double the legitimate fare.
"Sometimes, taxi drivers just reject passengers at the airport without any explanation," he said.
Shimasaki claimed that several businessmen complained that airport taxi drivers tend to overcharge and treat their passengers poorly. He recalled an incident where a taxi driver allegedly demanded that a JBAH member pay his fare in US dollars.
At a recent roundtable talk between JBAH and the HCMC Investment & Trade Promotion Center, taxi service around the airport was listed among the chief annoyances for Japanese entrepreneurs who make regular trips to the southern commercial hub.
Late last month, the Southern Airport Corporation held a meeting to discuss possible improvements to airport taxi service. An official from the corporation said transport inspectors have clamped down around the airport and issued strict fines. He further claimed that the beefed up enforcement has helped improve the quality of service.
However, Phan Le Hoan, director of Tan Son Nhat Operation Center told Thanh Nien that taxi drivers dodge inspectors by extorting outside the airport. Some have reportedly threatened their passengers with physical abuse once away from the airport, he claimed.
"No one supervises the drivers there," Hoan said.
Seeking for solutions
Dang Tan Tu, director of the Tan Son Nhat Airport Security Company, said they planned to revoke the registrations of some taxi companies that employ repeat offenders to "improve the airport's image."
"We have recorded 2,400 violations so far this year. Some companies like Petrolimex and Khai Hoan Mon have been slapped with one-month suspensions," he said. "We also report violations to taxi companies every Friday."
JBAH's Shimasaki has proposed making leaflets available to passengers bearing each driver's name and his company hotline.
"Moreover, taxi companies should improve drivers' manners and teach them English for better communication with foreigners," he said.
But Hoan, director of Tan Son Nhat Operation Center, said "Actually, we requested taxi firms to supply such cards to passengers but only two firms, Happy and Saigon Air, operating at the airport have followed the directive so far, " he said.
Ta Long Hy, chairman of HCMC Taxi Association, said they would set up a citywide passenger hotline soon. "Taxi firms were also asked to make their dismissals known to other firms, so that the drivers aren't re-hired elsewhere."
Hy, who is also director of Vinasun Taxi, said his company plans to sell tickets at fixed fare rates from the airport to common places around the city. The tickets will feature the driver's name and number as well as the company's hotline.
HAVE YOUR SAY:
Readers voice their opinions on Thanh Nien's cover story last week about harassment by taxi drivers at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City
Monopoly of the airport by a few taxi companies is a major reason for passenger harassment by taxi drivers. In fact, very few taxi companies are allowed to pick up passengers from the airport. Many taxis, which may be preferred by travelers, don't have permission to enter the airport.
In my opinion, if airport authorities can do nothing to break the monopoly, they should start a shuttle service to drive people from the arrival/departure area to the main gates of the airport.
The public can then be free to choose their favored taxi. This will surely end the mess which has lasted so long in a place that should be civilized.
Nguyen Thi Hoa
(Vinh Cuu District, the southern province of Dong Nai)
Authorities of Tan Son Nhat Airport should sign contracts with different taxi companies allowing them to pick up passengers at the airport. If a company's drivers receive too many complaints from passengers, their contract should be terminated.
Competition always boosts the quality of service. Without competition, certain taxi companies establish a monopoly and get away with harassing passengers.
Because of the existing monopoly, taxi drivers have the freedom to choose their passengers, and harass them.
Tran Huu Nghia
(Binh Chanh District, HCMC)
I am from Singapore, and I travel to HCMC about eight to 10 times a year. My suggestion is to adopt Singapore's demerit points system for taxi drivers in Vietnam.
Under the Singaporean system, each taxi driver has 20 points a year. Points are deducted based on passenger complaints or other wrong doings.
If a driver loses all his points, he is barred from the job for a certain period. Second-time offenders are barred for longer periods and third-time offenders are banned. The points are renewed yearly.
Hope my two cents worth of sense can be implemented in Vietnam and the standard of taxi services improve in the near future.
Francis Tan (Singapore)