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Thai junta targets taxi mafia gangs

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is attempting to cut out systematic corruption within Thailand's public transport sector.

BANGKOK: The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is attempting to cut out systematic corruption within Thailand's public transport sector.

It is aiming to clear Bangkok's main airport of alleged taxi mafia gangs and install a proper regulating system to help foreign tourists.

Thailand's military government wants to clear out what it has labelled as mafia style extortion gangs at Suvarnabhumi International airport.

It is an attempt to improve the country's image, prevent over-charging and put an end to horror stories of tourists left stranded at the airport.

Problems occur when taxis that are not registered with the airport refuse to take short-journey fares.

They pay money to illegal brokers to hand pick passengers.

Most of the time, rather than operating by the standard meter charge, the brokers will arrange a flat fee for the journey which is often up to double the actual charge.

This can mean a bad experience for new arrivals.

"Well, I spent like 1,600 baht on a taxi ride and it's just a complete rip-off here. They kind of have this style where they force you to pay more than you actually want," said Brandon LoPresti, a tourist.

Alleged mafia style gangs have been operating at Suvarnabhumi Airport's departures drop off zone.

The taxis will park there and wait for a long distance fare which they can negotiate a price for. For example, a two-hour trip to Pattaya could earn them up to US$80 per trip, whereas a 30-minute trip into the city would net them just US$10.

The Airport Authority of Thailand claims this problem has been allowed to continue because it currently outsources taxi management to a private firm and has no control over how passengers are allocated.

Rawewan Natrakavesna, General Manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport, said: "It's not the mafia at the airport. (The airport) is the one who controls the queue and the taxi stand and all the taxi pool area. We have the outsourced people to control the queue with passengers and taxis. Sometimes they (passengers) are tricked by taxis and the ones who control the front counter."

Official taxi representatives believe these so-called gangs are simply looking for a fair price for their services.

Taxis that collect passengers from the airport will only receive a one-way payment meaning they foot the cost for the return journey.

Phattavee Mearach, advisor to Napha Siam Citizen Radio, said: "Taxis at the airport are baggage vehicles. The people that use our service should understand our problems but now they call them taxi mafia. It’s actually not. It's just a misunderstanding."

Regardless of these claims and calls from taxi drivers for a fare hike, the NCPO is pushing ahead with a new computerised kiosk system that will be installed in August.

It will require drivers to register their details and means both the passengers and the destination would come down entirely to luck.

At the same time, unregistered cabs will no longer be allowed to park and wait for fares, with the aim of eliminating the targeting of tourists.

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