Vietnam plagued by illegal cabs

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Experts say more should be done to eliminate scam taxis after inspections led to the suspension of eleven firms in HCMC and Hanoi


An imitation taxi passes foreign tourists near HCMC's Ben Thanh
Market. Experts say Vietnam must do more to eliminate illegal taxis that tarnish the image of major cities.

Nguyen Chi Hieu hailed a slow-moving taxi when he and his family arrived at Ho Chi Minh City's hydrofoil station on their way back from a weekend beach vacation in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.

After telling the driver to take them to their home in Binh Thanh District, he recognized that he was on an illegal taxi advertising the logo and phone number of a reputable taxi company.

"We were well aware of the presence of scam taxis through the media. But we were really tired after the hydrofoil trip and forgot to carefully check the taxi brand," he said.

"I decided to continue driving, but kept a close eye on every movement of the driver as well as the meter to see if there was anything unusual," he said. "Finally, we paid VND150,000, as the meter showed, although we normally pay only VND85,000 to go the same distance. It was a scam taxi and the meter may have been modified to increase the fare."

But Hieu was luckier than some foreign tourists, who have been badly ripped off by con taxis in big cities.

In a recent case, Hanoi police arrested Nguyen Van Thong and Nguyen Van Hung in Hanoi for allegedly swindling a Swedish tourist on a drive from Noi Bai International Airport to a hotel on Hoan Kiem District.

Police said Hung offered the Thong's taxi which was unregistered to the tourist for VND300,000. On the trip, they told the tourist to pay VND4 million, supposedly to cover tolls and other fees.

In May, a Malaysian tourist in HCMC took a trick taxi from Ben Thanh Market to Tan Son Nhat International Airport and was charged VND4 million for a trip that should have cost only VND150,000 in a registered taxi.

In a recent effort to improve taxi services and busting scam artists, the Transport Ministry conducted inspections of taxi companies in Hanoi and HCMC, suspending eleven taxi firms, including six in Hanoi and five in HCMC.

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In Hanoi, inspectors suspended operations for the following taxi companies: Mua Xuan, Le Gia, Phu Gia, Hong Hung, BG and Taxi 14. Major violations included lacking a communication device and management personnel; some companies had fleets of only four or five taxis.

In HCMC, Minh Duc Taxi and the Transport and Travel Service Cooperative No. 2 had their business licenses revoked, while Happy, Festival and Petrolimex were suspended from operating at Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

Thach Nhu Sy, the ministry's deputy chief inspector, said the offending taxi firms were also fined for violations, which included not following registered car colors and logos and failing to monitor their vehicles' operation.

He said it come under the authority of HCMC to grant new licenses to the two firms whose licenses were revoked.

"Currently, 11 of 33 taxi firms registered to operate in HCMC are allowed to operate in Tan Son Nhat International Airport and the transport ministry has been instructed to draft regulations for taxi operation in the airport," he told Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper.

Sy confessed that it would be very difficult to enforce such regulations; however, he did not elaborate why.

Chairman of the HCMC Taxi Association Ta Long Hy said it would be difficult to ensure taxis operated according to code, despite the stern action taken against violators. "Inspection is only an ad hoc measure, unable to effectively solve the problem," he said.

He said taxis should be given more favorable tax policies, as opposed to the current policy which charges them the same amount as private cars. When private cars have to pay higher taxes, there will be fewer illegal taxis, he said.

"We proposed reducing registration fees to encourage the purchase of new cabs and improving taxi services, but it was rejected," he said.

Taxi problem

Experts said that the last resort was to limit the number of cars and ban taxis from operating during designated hours on specific streets in the city.

In Hanoi, transport authorities have banned taxis from operating on certain streets during peak hours this Tet, which falls on January 23, a controversial decision considering that citizens assume that demand for taxis will increase then.

Taxi firms expressed fear that their profits would be reduced.

Nguyen Xuan Tan, deputy director of the Hanoi Transport Department, rejected rumors that they would prohibit taxis around the clock on some streets during Tet.

According to a plan issued by municipal transport and police departments, the taxi ban will take effect from January 9 to February 6, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day on several streets, including Tay Son, Nguyen Luong Bang, Ton Duc Thang, Xuan Thuy, Cau Giay, Lang Ha, Pham Ngoc Thach, Chua Boc, Thai Ha and La Thanh and the Chuong Duong Bridge.

Dao Vu Minh Tuan, deputy director of North-East Mai Linh Company, said it would be easier if the ban was implemented both before and after Tet.

"The demand for taxis during Tet always increases together with that of residents to visit their relatives during the holiday," he said.

HCMC authorities suspended registration for new taxis in mid-2010, following a boom in the number of the vehicles. Earlier, the city planned to have 9,500 taxis by 2015 but the actual number increased to 12,550 by early 2010, not including thousands of unregistered taxis.

However, taxi drivers said the decision was ineffective because many firms simply dispatched their taxis from other provinces to the city.

Dang Hoang Phuong, chairman of Sai Gon Hoang Long Taxi, said harsh competition exists in the taxi market and every firm has tried their best to increase their number of cars in an effort to introduce their brand to passengers.

"Furthermore, investing in more cars would increase revenue and promote the brand," he said.

Hy of the HCMC Taxi Association said many firms have taken their cars from nearby provinces to HCMC following the city's registration suspension.

According to Hy, a large number of taxis with different local license numbers, models and colors have made it easier for illegal taxi rings to operate.

Duong Hong Thanh, deputy director of HCMC Transport Department, admitted that current regulations do not ban firms from assigning cars from other provinces to HCMC.

Many people have noted that similar problems with taxis plague cities all over the world and that passengers should be vigilant to protect themselves.

Tony, an expat living in Vietnam, said HCM is no worse than London or Naples (Italy) or any other big city.

"In Naples my wife had her bag ripped from her shoulder and my friend had his wallet stolen on a bus. London is bad for thieves too; so it's the same wherever you go," he said.

"Just try not to be too stupid. It's easy enough to do some research before making a trip to find reputable taxis and always go on the meter."

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