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Taxis, Taxis Uber Alles

Recent news item:

The Department of Land Transport (DLT) said that despite their positives, Uber and the Grab Car do not provide customers with the essentials that regular taxis offer. Under the law, taxis come under public transportation, so taxi drivers are required by law to register themselves with the DLT. The agency conducts a comprehensive background check on the drivers and when problems occur, they can be traced easily.’

Away from the alternative universe of bureaucrats, let me explain how easy it is to trace a taxi driver when a problem occurs, such as, oo, something unusual, like forgetting your mobile in a taxi.

Step one.  You go to a police station.  You will be interrogated quite closely to establish that your loss actually occurred in the district of that police station.  Any doubt and you will be sent packing to another station.

So you are advised to lose your mobile while getting out of a taxi right outside the police station, just to make sure.  Thais know the system and a surprisingly large number of things are lost virtually on the steps of police stations.

If you are in doubt about which station covers the place where you lost your phone, it is easy to check.  Just go into a police station and look at the map on the wall inside.  That shows their district.  But only their district, and the officers in one district may have only the haziest idea about the districts of other stations.

You could try checking police districts on the internet.  But only if you want to waste time because the information isn’t there.

You have of course remembered the taxi licence number.  Everybody always remembers this; that’s why they are printed inside the cab.  But let’s suppose you that the stress of losing your precious phone has weakened your memory.

In that case, you have of course remembered the colour of the taxi, which you can’t see from the inside.  This may give you the name of the taxi company or cooperative and you may be able to contact them and they may be able to find out which cab it was that may still have your phone.

But suppose you are colour-blind or the taxi was green-yellow (owner-driven).  You will then have to hope that there was a CCTV camera focussed on your taxi at some point on your journey.

But then again, a number of the BMA ‘cameras’ around town are still just empty boxes, designed to discourage the less discerning of the street criminal fraternity.  And most traffic CCTV doesn’t have the resolution to read a number plate.  And it’s a song and dance to get hold of the footage either way.

So you are hoping that the private CCTV of a hotel or department store might have caught something.  This normally is available, if you have already made a police report (see Step One) that you can wave at them.

So by one or another of the above miracles, let us assume that you get the taxi registration number.

The police can now check this against the DLT database.  If the cab belongs to a company or cooperative, you still don’t know who the driver was.  But of course their scrupulously thorough records will reveal this.  And the practice of ‘sub-letting’ taxis is totally unknown in Thailand.  But you may be able to get a name and phone number of someone who may have been driving a taxi that you may have taken.

If it’s an owner-driven green-and-yellow, you will get the name and address of the owner direct from the database.  But normally no phone number.  And the address is almost invariably somewhere in the northeast.  So the Bangkok police have to ‘request’ the local police upcountry to visit the address to locate the owner.

This will only take a few weeks and if and when the report comes back, you will be told that the owner isn’t there because he’s driving a taxi in Bangkok.  Which is just about the only thing you’ve been sure of since you started this caper.  But maybe you will get a phone number out of the exercise.

The number of the owner, but not necessary the driver.  It’s illegal, but to make the cab pay, it’s got to be driven 24/7, so the owner/driver will rent it out to non-owner/drivers, who are never going to admit they were at the wheel, because legally they can’t be.

So there we are.  We now infallibly have the name and phone number of the taxi driver who, some days or weeks earlier, drove off with your phone.  And all you have to do is ask them for your phone back.

‘Phone?  I never saw no phone.  The next passenger after you must have taken it.’

But this sure-fire easy-as-pie procedure is far superior to what you would have to do with the app-driven services.  There, you would have to go to all the bother of calling the taxi’s number and tracking him via his GPS.

In terms of easy tracing and the chances of seeing your phone again, there’s just no comparison.