08 June 2009

Taxi to the dark side 1/2

There are two kinds of taxi drivers: Corrupt ones and frustrated ones. While the former are as rampant as the plague, skilfully pulling all kinds of tricks and excuses for high fares, the latter are annoyed at the bad reputation honest taxi drivers have to deal with.

KL is a city that has been made by car owners for car owners. Not having a car "is like having no feet", one taxi driver veteran (30 years of service) fittingly remarked - that did not stop him from charging me the triple fare (RM 25 instead of RM 8!) anyway for when I moved house last Saturday (at least he helped me with bags, drove me right in front of the door and waited for loading/unloading).

And how true it is. My office, on a hill, can only be safely reached by motorised vehicles. The 15min walk to the next train is recommended in groups only (risk of robbery). Every morning, the same damn fight at the taxi stand in Chinatown: I, still drunk with sleep walk up to the first taxi, open door, give name of street in my best Malay pronouncation (the less foreign, the better the chances of gettting a not-too-expensive taxi) and name of building. Next, they think for five seconds where it is. Then there are three options:

Option A:
They say yes and give you a flat price (RM 10-15!) in which case I shake my head and insist "Bermeter saja." which means "Metered only." or remind them that it is illegal not to use a meter. They rug their shoulder and usually take advantage of their Miranda Rights. Sometimes, they show an attitude and say, "Your choice. You wanna go or not."

No matter which version of option A I get, I just love to slam the door in their face, especially when they get annoyed for your assumed greediness and ignorance towards the plights of taxi drivers. Bla bla bla.

Option B:
Theys say yes and will use a meter. In that case: Rejoice! You're finally on the move but you still can't let your guard down:

# Watch them put the meter on. Only then open your mouth (as you'll give yourself away as "rich foreigner" else and they might change their mind about the flat rate).
# Be curt in your conversation, concentrate on the road. Occasionally, you will have to point out that there's a shorter way to do that, too (people only go there if they have business with our office or the cemetery nearby, so taxi drivers don't often go there).
# If they ask you where you are from (a usual question), and they seem nice, I say I'm from Austria but my mother is from the Philippines (for people sometimes wonder about my looks, if I'm half-Malay or sth which I use to my advantage). That sometimes breaks the ice. If they are too curious, I just say, "I'm prom dee Pilippines" in my best Pinoy accent. Julie actually invented a whole country. :D
# Observe the meter. It should be RM 4-5 to work. If not, there must be something wrong with the meter...!

Option C:
They tell you they won't go there. Most because "Come back empty" and I suspect that some have more xenophobic reasons for not wanting to go there and others don't want to get stuck in the morning rush hour on the way back to the city centre.

Having to roll up your sleeves walking up to a taxi stand is an annoying routine for everyone. Even locals get served with corrupt taxi drivers sometimes. A female work colleague of mine once shot back, "I am local like you, I am Indian, you are Indian, why you charge me high price!"

It is with nostalgia I look back to the weeks when a stationery police van was parked 24/7 next to the taxi stand! Getting a metered taxi was so much easier! One time though, the following happened:

First taxi driver: "RM 15."
Me: "Bermeter saja."
First taxi driver: "10"
Me: "IT IS ONLY 4!!!"
First taxi driver: "You wanna go or not?", believing I just arrived yesterday and don't know the law. I point to the police van in front of him and scream:
Me: "IT IS ILLEGAL NOT TO USE A METER!" He shrugs and turns his attention away from me. That shut him up. I slam the door.

Second taxi driver: Before I even fully opened the door and completed the street name, he shakes his head, "I don't know, I don't know." OK, that is weird. I shut the door and walk back towards the first one, prepared to make a scene that will get the police involved. Before I'm there, it drives away empty! The second follows suit. Somebody just grabbed the third.

Suddenly, I find myself at an empty taxi stand. Gone are they. Five minutes. I wave one from the street. The young guy grudgingly accepts a meter. He's an honest lad. He is pissed off the government hasn't changed the meter in years but everything else gets more expensive. I tell him I understand his problem but diplomatically add that he also needs to understand that as a foreigner, I need some kind of security too. He continues and blames corrupt taxi drivers who charge too much for bringing bad business and being immoral. He sounds genuinely frustrated. When I get off and pay my RM 4, I thank him for using a meter and encourage him to continue using it: It's good karma.

Another one complained that the government does not give out licenses to individuals, only to taxi companies. Therefore, you either have to rent or own a taxi. Renting is very expensive, hence the blanket policy of drivers to charge a flat rate.

4 courageous comments!:

Anonymous said...

hallo schnitte!
aha so ist das also mit den taxi drivers in KL! hab ich nit gedacht, dass das so eine car-ised stadt ist!wenn du frei hast, kannst du ja mal aufs land fahren, hmm?
heidi, hast du eigentlich einen fotoapparat?ß ich möcht ein paar bilder sehen!!!!! pleaseeeee!!
hier ist der juni angerissen - die abgabetermine und prüfungen wollen einander verdrängen überlagern!!! tsts!
küsse meine liebe!!! ** ma

Aike said...

Why don't you get a bicycle? (And helmet, please.) Problem solved! ;P

Musha said...

This is one funny entry. I like the style of your writing. How's you? Hope KL is treating you good. xx

Heidi said...

@ma:
hallo sweety pie!!! ;P
freue mich super ueber deinen comment!!!
fahre dieses wochenende an die east coast, auf's land (oder so hoffe ich zumindest!) habe ein paar fotos zum uploaden, leider nicht viele weil meine kamera neue batterien braucht und ich angst hab dass jemand meine schwarzbeere stiehlt! kein internet zuhause und suuuper busy in der arbeit.

@aike:
thanks but no thanks, my dear! i won't even try to convert the car disciples to greener living, especially if it involves putting myself out there, literally! besides, i'd have to drive with an oxygen-tank and you know what happens, right, if a car crashes the cylinder...!

@musha:
thanks so much for your entry! been so incredibly busy at work that i did not get to actually check up my blog lately, let alone compose an exciting entry - therefore i apologise if "Teksi 2/2" does not live up to the standard of part 1. KL is a fun town! it would be perfect if they let singapore build an efficient underground, LOL! :