Posts Tagged ‘taxi’

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How To Upset A Bali Taxi Thug

October 10, 2012

So I’m finishing off my coffee in Melasti Street, enjoying watching the chaotic procession outside, when I see a young couple trying to hail a cab. They seem unaware that Bali’s taxis are divided into two distinct groups, the good (Bluebird) and the truly abysmal (most of the rest), and keep trying to flag down the latter.

Each cab that stops seems unable to understand their request to be taken to a particular restaurant, which is not too far away as the crow flies. But with the rat’s nest of one-way streets here, it’s a tortuous drive, but still a reasonable fare of about 12,000  rupiah.  Three cabs stop, their drivers eyeing the couple, their three small children and the collapsible pusher. None have ever heard of the restaurant. All shrug unhelpfully and drive off.

I drift over and ask whether they need any help, which they gratefully accept – just as yet another taxi mafioso pulls in and winds down his window. It’s too late to wait for a real cab, because the passengers have already flagged him down. The boys here take any subsequent refusal to engage their services as a mortal insult.

“Do you know where Restaurant X is?”, I ask. The driver shakes his head and looks blank, so I explain where it is. “Yes, yes, yes!” he snarls, pretending he knew all the time. “Put your meter on please”, I request, only to be met by a scowl and a brusque injunction to get in. As the passengers open the back door, the driver leans out of the window again and says: “30,000 rupiah.” I tell him no, I said we want the meter. “No meter, 30,000 rupiah”, he yells louder.

I tell the family that this is not going to work, and that I’ll get another cab for them. The driver is incensed. “OK, 25,000 rupiah”, he snarls. When I tell him his services will not be required, he turns nasty and starts hurling abuse. Then, as we all move away, he suddenly reverses his cab onto the footpath, nearly hitting the family’s pusher. He leans out of the passenger window and accosts me, giving me the classic middle finger salute and yelling: “You get fucked! You fucker! Fucking bule!” The little kids are listening to this tirade, wide-eyed. They will probably remember this.

I move in close to him and look at his upraised middle finger. I must be telegraphing what I am thinking – which is that his finger is such a tempting target, and that I would love to bend it back to somewhere near Jimbaran – because he suddenly pulls his hand away. I tell him firmly, but still politely, that he can go, and that these passengers don’t want someone who is going to rip them off for three times the normal fare. He keeps swearing at me.

I shrug. “OK”, I say. “I’ll call the Tourist Police.” He loses it completely. “I will kill you! I will kill you!” He looks dead serious. Boy, I really know how to win friends and influence people. Must be my engaging personality. As he drives off, he keeps glaring back at me, repeating his death mantra.

So I flag down a real cab – a Bluebird – whose driver is not only happy to take this young family to their destination, but seems grateful to be told the location of the restaurant. He puts on the meter without being asked. Bluebirds have the real, certified meters, not the double-speed rigged specials employed by the thugs.

I am left pondering the reasons as to why the first driver arced up when he failed to browbeat the family into paying an exorbitant fare. He obviously didn’t like the idea of someone with some local knowledge advising visitors, because this severely erodes his profits. Flipping the bird was juvenile, but sort of cute in a way. The threat to kill me was less so, particularly after hearing the venom and sheer hate behind the threat. Even so, one could dismiss it as an explosive outburst by someone with a mercurial temper.

Except for one little thing.

The driver concerned was in full ‘Islamic’ garb, or at least in the sort of Saudi-influenced garb favoured by hard-line extremists elsewhere in Indonesia. It was as if a fully-fledged member of the FPI was suddenly teleported into the streets of Bali, instead of extorting people in Jakarta as those thugs usually do.  Should his attire be relevant to any discussion of his suitability as a taxi driver? Of course not. Should his behaviour be relevant to his suitability as a taxi driver? Most definitely. And so we come to the crux of the matter – what is acceptable public behaviour of a person who clearly and visibly chooses to identify himself as a particular type of Muslim, especially in the light of recent events?

We’ve all heard about the world-wide episodes of violence involving some radical Muslims, who chose to show their disapproval of an amateurish satirical film by an Egyptian non-entity living in California. Some of them killed an innocent diplomat, some ran amok in the streets, and here in Indonesia, some inexplicably attacked a hamburger shop owned by locals in Surabaya. Rage knows no logic, as evidenced by the unrelated targets and the one common thread in all these protests – the repeated refrain of ‘Death to all Westerners’.

So given the current volatile situation, when an angry man in ‘Islamic’ garb threatens to kill me, a Westerner, I probably should take it a little more seriously than I normally would.

But I won’t, of course, because I don’t generally pay much attention to raving nut-jobs, even if they are dressed in white. A local Muslim woman came up to me after the maniac’s  cab had departed, saying, “I’m so sorry. We’re not all like that”. I know that – but she helped reinforce my view that Islam is not monolithic, and that crazy people come from all walks of life.

But, you know, just in case my headless torso is found in the morning – ask the police to check out a wild-eyed, foul-mouthed cabbie dressed in white …

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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.