A taxi operator recently declared that drivers of e-hailing services will be barred from picking up passengers at several major hotels and shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur from November.
He planned to bring taxi services at these properties under his control, just as he had done so at Kuala Lumpur City Centre where Suria KLCC is located.
This was after he had secured a sub-contract from another taxi company that has an agreement with a shopping mall for chauffeur-driven limousine services.
If given a free hand, taxi drivers, companies, cooperatives or associations are quick stake territorial claims to monopolise services.
Such exclusivity could easily degenerate to the extent that guests and shoppers using other taxis or e-hailing services may be dropped off on the main road instead of the covered entrance.
Fearing repercussions, the hotel and mall operators named were quick to deny having any agreement or arrangement with this taxi operator, who continues to make waves in the local scene.
There is bound to be confusion when issues are not seen in the right context, more so when matters are further complicated by parties with vested interests.
Knowledge of how local hotel taxi services have evolved over the years, starting with the first two international class hotels in the city, would help put things in proper perspective.
The Federal Hotel was opened for business on 28 August 1957, just three days before Malaya became an independent nation. This was followed by the Merlin Hotel in 1959, now known as the Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
In 1973, I was a limousine driver-cum-tourist-guide and picked up passengers staying at 5-star accommodation such as the Equatorial Hotel, Kuala Lumpur Hilton and The Regent (now Parkroyal), all along Treacher Road (renamed Jalan Sultan Ismail).
Initially, all the limousine taxis were operated by tour and car rental companies catering to tourists and government agencies, but with the mushrooming of luxury hotels in the city, more limousines were based at hotels catering to room guests.
While those on holiday were prepared to put up at tourist-class hotels, most guests at luxury hotels were travelling on business and would settle for nothing less than a Mercedes limousine for business meetings or to the airport, as all expenses would be borne by the company.
As hoteliers wish to concentrate on providing value for money accommodation, food and beverage, and other hotel services, transport for guests were farmed out by appointing a company to operate limousine services from the hotel.
Instead of paying monthly rental for the privilege, the concessionaire usually supplied an official car for exclusive use by the hotel’s general manger.
Under the arrangements, hotel guests may opt to pay for limousine services directly to the driver or the amount charged to the room bill.
More often than not, the fleet of limousines owned by the concessionaire was insufficient to cater to the demand.
Independent owner-drivers would be invited to join the taxi queue for picking up guests by paying a taxi stand fee monthly.
The concessionaire would operate a limousine counter between the hotel’s main entrance and driveway, and the duty supervisor would hail for a budget taxi if preferred by guests, usually by switching on a flashing light installed by the roadside that could be easily spotted by passing taxis.
At smaller hotels, the doorman or bellhops would arrange for taxis when requested, but would demand a commission from the driver for airport trips, with some making more money by collecting from guests and paying much less to the drivers.
Even at luxury hotels with limousine counter, it could be a free-for-all among the doormen and bellhops in the absence of a limousine supervisor when guests preferred a budget taxi to the airport.
Beneath the outward courtesy were front office staff, including concierges and receptionists, ready to pounce on any money-making opportunities.
I drove budget taxis from 2004-10 and once tried to wait for passengers at the side of a hotel in Mid Valley, but was soon told by another taxi driver that the queue was for members only.
I understood what it was, for I too had paid monthly fees to queue at Shangri-La and Mandarin Oriental when I drove premier taxis from 2000-03.
Since then, the taxi queuing system had spread to shopping malls, starting with Berjaya Times Square, but coupon systems became highly unpopular as charges were excessive.
At public locations such as train stations, the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) would not condone it as they have control over terminal licensing.
However, owners or management of hotels and malls have the rights over their properties and are responsible for their business decisions.
Those who abdicated their role and allowed a taxi company to dictate transport arrangements at their premises would suffer more harm than they realise.
The government is aware that passengers must be allowed to choose the transport they wish to pay and had bent backwards to legalise e-hailing services due to overwhelming popularity.
But it should not allow taxi operators and drivers to act as vigilantes by taking the law into their own hands, which would not only drive away other taxi drivers but also tourists and shoppers.
We can ill afford to allow gangsterism to take root at any taxi stand or terminal, least of all at hotels and malls.
For example, Kuala Lumpur City Centre was an oasis of calm when I picked up passengers from there in 2000. At each entrance, there was a smart doorman in uniform opening car doors, including taxis, for shoppers to embark or disembark.
The doormen would ensure there was a very short taxi queue just in front of the entrance. Taxi service then was world-class and I felt proud to be Malaysian and taxi driver.
But things got from bad to worse when shoppers were not allowed to board taxis at the entrance and were told to proceed to roadside taxi stands.
But before they could reach taxis in queue, they would be intercepted by drivers who have left their taxis to tout for passengers. The scene was like sending lambs to the slaughter, especially foreign tourists.
Later, an executive taxi company was appointed the concessionaire but the barricades put up to monopolise taxi services was unsightly.
Thankfully, most of our malls are better managed but it is a wonder why hotels do not curb hanky-panky at the front office, which is closely monitored by CCTV.
Perhaps the culture of being discreet to the guests was also extended to the staff?
Source : Y S Chan@The Heat Malaysia Online