Posts Tagged ‘taxi mafia’


Stingy Tourists? Or Stingy Government?

April 29, 2012

The Chairman of Bali’s Tourism Board,  Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, opened his mouth wide last Wednesday, and firmly inserted his foot. Annoyed that, despite the rise in total tourist numbers to Bali, visitors are now staying for only an average of three or four days instead of the seven days which was the norm ten years ago, and spend only $100 per day instead of $300, he blamed the tourists.

“Stingy tourists” are overcrowding Bali, he whinged. “When they come we have serious problems of traffic and waste. The island becomes dirty”, he said – falling headlong into the time-honoured local practice of blaming everyone else except yourself. It’s a little shocking to see officials – whose job it is to attract tourists – turn on their target market and accuse them of not being good little visitors by staying longer and spending more. It’s more than a little disconcerting to see a high-profile public official actually exhibit the same cargo-cult mentality that pervades many less sophisticated villagers here. In effect, he is saying: “You have it. We want it. Give it to us. If you don’t, you are a stingy bule.”

Well, Ngurah, you might think that, but as the voice of Bali tourism, you are not supposed to say it, because the backlash from tourists as a result of your rudeness will only result in a wider public discussion as to the real reasons that people are deserting Bali. I too was a tourist for twelve years before coming here to live. Now, as a resident for over three years, I have constant contact with ‘stingy’ tourists, and as a result of their feedback,  I am happy to summarise for you just why this trend is developing.

Look around you, Ngurah – not with the rose-coloured glasses of a local, but through the eyes of someone arriving in Bali after a long, tiring flight. What do you see?

You will see tourists paying $25 USD each for a 30-day visa-on-arrival to enter the country, and then another $16 USD each to leave. Family of four coming for only 5 days? That’s $164 USD out of the spending budget already, and no way to save money on a one-week visa, because officialdom has withdrawn the short-stay visa facility. Visiting Bali on a cruise lay-over for 6 hours? That’s $25 USD per person thanks.

You will see chaos, delays and inefficiency in a hot, overcrowded arrivals hall, with insufficient staff to handle the passenger load and a confusing queuing system.

You will see tired visitors being pounced on by “porters” at the baggage carousel and cajoled into letting them wheel their bags twenty metres to the customs desk, then stridently demanding $10 for each bag before running off to scam their next victim, as airport ‘security’ personnel stand by and grin.

You will see the monopolistic taxi counter ‘mistakenly’ ask for a rate higher than the official published rates displayed, then see their drivers try to con their passengers out of another 40,000 on arrival at their hotels and villas with a pathetic sob story, or an insistence that “this is the rule!” You will see arriving visitors quail as they face the long, long, crowded walk to their car during the chaotic and visitor-unfriendly airport reconstruction.

You will see tourists arrive at what are now grossly-overpriced and over-starred hotels, which no longer offer the ‘book 7, get 10″ incentive packages of past years, only to be told, “Sorry, your room is not ready.” Even Singapore hotels are now cheaper than those in Bali, which is no longer competitive.

You will see a proliferation of Mini-Marts in garish colours selling monstrously-overpriced items to the hapless tourist. Buy a local magazine there, published in Bahasa Indonesia, with a printed price of 25,000 rupiah on the cover, and you will be charged 55,000 when it is scanned. Shrug from the cashier. “Boss’s rules”.

You will see tourists being accosted by rude touts, women being physically man-handled by sellers who refuse to accept a polite refusal to buy their wares, stall-holders muttering thinly-veiled abuse at tourists who won’t pay four times the going rate in Bali (and twice the price in their home country) for their shoddy goods. You will see criminal money-changers short-changing gullible tourists every day, and the arrogant taxi mafia (the non-Bluebird companies) over-charging customers and threatening real taxi drivers with violence.

You will see tourists stuck in traffic for hours on Bali’s poorly-maintained roads, because no-one even considers the grid-locking consequences of allowing local drivers to park wherever they feel like. You will see suicidal motorbike riders come close to killing pedestrians with their brainless antics and causing accidents with cars, after which they shrilly demand compensation for their own stupidity.

You will see visitors to Bali try to negotiate the open drains with lids which masquerade as  ‘footpaths’ here, and injure themselves when brittle manholes collapse beneath them. You will see tourists with infants in strollers being forced to risk death by having to share the narrow roads with texting drivers and motorcyclists.

You will see tourists now being expected to pay the same prices as at home for mediocre western-style meals, and absolutely exorbitant rates for imported wine, spirits and food. Spirits in bars are frequently counterfeit local replacements and deliberate half-shots in mixed drinks are common. Despite smokers being banned in all restaurants, bars and clubs from the first of June this year, tourists can expect no relief from the constant burning of toxic plastic waste all over Bali, the carcinogenic mosquito fogging smoke and noise, or from the stinking emissions of the ubiquitous buses, trucks and illegal 2-stroke motorbikes.

You will see tourists give up on visiting the ‘cultural epicentre’ of Ubud because of traffic jams and the hundreds of huge buses clogging the town. You will see them give up on visiting far-flung temples and seeing the ‘real’ Bali, because it’s all too hard, and now too expensive. Eventually, you will see them avoiding the immense, noisy, polluted construction zone that is South Bali altogether.

You will see tourists recoil from the stinking piles of garbage on the beaches, on the streets and in the ‘rivers’. Where garbage is collected, it ends up in make-shift tips anywhere the collectors choose to dump it. Just have a look at the huge rat and snake-infested mountain of refuse dumped opposite villa developments in Legian, just off Jalan Nakula; have a look at the environmentally-disastrous heap of rubbish at the entrance to the Mangrove Park.

You will see tourists cautious of potentially rabies-infected dogs, scared of contracting Dengue fever from the incessant mosquitoes, wary of getting Legionnaires disease from poorly-maintained air-conditioners, and amazed that nothing is being done about electricity outages and Bali’s looming water shortage. They are worried about increasing crime and a police force that does nothing without money up-front.

And what does the Tourism Board do to make Bali a more attractive destination for visitors? Nothing. It blames the “stingy tourists”. Wow. What diplomacy, what amazing sensitivity. What a truly stupid, irresponsible thing to say.

Well, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, I have news for you. Tourists have been coming to Bali for decades because it has a special sort of magic. The magic is still there, but it is now being countered by a not-so-special sort of opportunism and greed, over-development, collapsing infrastructure, and an arrogant belief that tourists will keep coming, no matter what.

They won’t. They have already stopped coming; and those who do still come, are spending less. Tourists are changing the Bali paradigm, not because they are “stingy”, but because they are driven by the concept of value for money. And frankly, Bali simply does not provide value for money any more.

The question for you, sir, is what will you and your cohorts in government do to change this?


Why the Bluebird of Happiness is Under Attack

March 27, 2010

There is no doubt that the taxi business in Bali is a viciously competitive game. Companies not only have to compete against each other, but with hordes of private bemos and ojeks – those ubiquitous motorcycle taxis. Cruising cabs, empty and desperate, clog up main streets and relentlessly beep every potential fare. Except for Bluebird, Bali’s taxis do not even attempt to compete on the basis of service quality. They instead choose to use pressure tactics, force, intimidation and political leverage  to eliminate any opposition that they deem a threat. Or they imitate Bluebird’s logo on their own cars. All manner of small scrawny avian symbols adorn the roofs of the pretenders and sometimes a keen eye is needed to discern the difference without experience. Why? Easy – Bluebird is better than its competition.

Astute visitors to Bali have long known that the safest and cheapest taxis here are operated by the Bluebird Group. Their cabs are clean, their drivers well-groomed, courteous and honest, and their meters (always used without asking) are not rigged. They will pick up a fare for a short trip without complaining, understanding fully that multiple flagfalls in a short time translate into more income than widely separated long journeys with empty returns. In short, they are professionals. No surprise that people will stand in the rain, ignoring cabs from other companies just to secure a Bluebird.

Competing taxi drivers hate this, but seem to be oblivious to the reasons this is so. I have been abused, as has my Bluebird driver, by angry cabbies demanding that I hire them instead. Why should I? I make my choice of transport on the basis of service quality and my experience. And my experience over 10 years of frequent visits and 10 months of residence here is that I am more likely to be ripped off by non-Bluebird drivers. There is no space here to list all the transgressions I have seen over the years, but here a few:

I arrive at the airport, bags in the boot. The driver (non-Bluebird) points to the meter which shows 85,000 for what I know is a 45,000 fare in a Bluebird. Then he says: “You must pay me extra 30,000 for airport parking”. The parking receipt for 3,000, normally placed on the dashboard by professional drivers, has mysteriously disappeared into his pocket. OK, I’ll play the game. I get out, pulling my wallet out and go to the back of the car for my bags. The driver screams at me: “You pay first!” I stand my ground. He throws my bags out of the boot. I give him the exorbitant fare. “Where is my tip?” he demands. “My tip is ‘be nice to your mother'”, I reply. He is angry and resentful. “You must pay parking fee! 30,000!” I give him 3,000. He is enraged, that peculiar fury you see when someone is caught out doing something dishonest. I suggest we talk to a nearby security guard, one previously unnoticed by him. He leaves quickly, mouthing some pungent obscenities in Bahasa. I am pleased at my grasp of Indonesian profanity.

Some weeks later, I arrive at the airport, pay for the taxi ticket to Legian and score a surly specimen from the airport taxi crowd who won’t help me with my bags, but sprints ahead yelling cepat! – hurry up! At my destination, he tells me I must pay him the 55,000 rupiah fare, which of course, I have already paid. “No, no – that is just booking fee – you pay me for trip now”, he says. I manufacture a smile and make sure I get my bags. Only then do I stop smiling and walk off while he yells at me some more. Do they teach these guys fake rage at taxi school? Or is it real?

Then there is the ‘taxi mafia’ enclave at the end of Jl. Abimanyu in Seminyak. Try waving down a Bluebird there – they can stop to drop off passengers, but woe betide any who try to pick them up. I hailed one, and five other drivers immediately materialised and physically threatened my guy, who not surprisingly, left with an apologetic look at me. I only wanted to go to Eat Street – a short run of perhaps 7,000 rupiah through the back lanes, but was stuck with one of the thugs who had menaced my departed driver.

“Meter, please”, I say. “No meter” he replies. “There it is”, I point out helpfully. “Meter broken”, mutters the preman masquerading as my driver. “Fixed price”, he continues, “30,000”. “No”, I say. “Get out”, he replies, leaving me in a dark lane to fend for myself. So there you go. Nasty drivers, rigged meters, poor service, rudeness and dishonesty. Not to mention dirty cars, deliberately long routes, masking tape obscuring meter digits – all things that I’ve never experienced with Bluebird, but which seem to be endemic in other companies.

No wonder Bluebird are fighting trumped-up charges of “irregularities” in their permits, and demands that they take their cars off the road. Gee, I wonder who might be behind that? The philosophy seems to be: ‘if you can’t beat them fairly, try to destroy them’. What a crock. Guys, get your act together and give us good service instead – then we might all start using you instead of Bluebird.

But I think we all know that’s not going to happen.