Posts Tagged ‘taxis’

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Bali Bogans Are Not Always Foreign Imports

December 11, 2011

The group of young men have been there for weeks now, at least since the Schoolies epidemic started. Hanging idly around the Circle K every afternoon, they behave badly, as drifters at a loose end tend to do everywhere in the world. Strewing their bikes haphazardly around the parking bay outside the door, they sullenly refuse to yield space to customers trying to enter the store, and stubbornly block access to delivery trucks. Their facial expressions are simultaneously vacant and sullen, and they seem to be attempting to cultivate an air of menace which sits uneasily on their youthful features.

They engage in sporadic conversation, if you can call desultory grunts ‘conversation’. They seem rootless, bored and lacking any sense of engagement with their surroundings – except to leer at passing skimpily-dressed female schoolies. As two young women, who look about seventeen, emerge from the store and pause to put away their purchases, one layabout detaches himself from his compatriots and swaggers over. Yes, he actually swaggers, despite this being a mode of locomotion normally employed by bad actors in made-for-television films.

He must be the alpha male, because the others watch with barely-concealed anticipation as the master makes his move. Standing a metre from his quarry, he stares, face set in an expression that could only have been learned from watching James Dean movies. The girls are aware of him of course, but pointedly ignore him. Young they might be, but they are not without experience in handling the unwanted advances of predatory males.

So he moves closer, intruding into their personal space. A flicker of eye-contact is enough to embolden him into emitting what he must believe is the ultimate in smooth pick-up lines. “How about some jiggy-jig?” he asks brusquely. Wow. No time-wasting here. His attempted sang-froid is spoiled somewhat by an unanticipated break in his voice, which he attempts to remedy by pitching his tone lower and repeating himself. It sounds worse this time – the transition from Dean to De Niro is somewhat lacking in its execution.

The girls might not know the term jiggy-jig, but they certainly pick up on its intent. They stare at him for two seconds, using that peculiar opaque look perfected by teenagers inappropriately accosted by older men. I mean, this guy is probably twenty-four. He is positively elderly. He doesn’t realise that he has lost the race before the starter’s gun even goes off. Without a word being spoken, the girls brush past him as if he was an insubstantial shadow, and walk off without a backwards glance.

Thwarted, the inept lothario skulks back to his bike, glaring at his acolytes as if daring them to make a comment on his loss of face. They understand the game though, and immediately blame the girls for being so unresponsive to their mate. To salvage a few shreds of what passes for self-respect, the group starts making insulting comments, which become increasingly loud and offensive. Reclining on their bikes, heads resting on handlebars and feet stretched out on pillions – presumably to project an air of unconcerned relaxation, they begin a loud series of hoots and catcalls aimed at the backs of the departing girls. When that elicits no response, they reach back and squeeze their horn buttons, creating a strident cacophony that continues for more than sixty seconds.

The psychological meaning of playing with their horns for stress relief escapes them, but the noise does annoy staff and customers in the convenience store, the adjacent coffee shop and the local spas where people are trying to relax. In fact, the racket intensely irritates everyone within a hundred metre radius. Several locals attempt to calm them down, but are treated with utter disdain. The only people who think their antics are amusing are the off-duty taxi drivers who also hang around the Circle K every afternoon, their street-blocking hoodle of parked cabs causing traffic chaos during the busiest time of day. The young men on their bikes posture and preen, playing to each other and to the cabbies, ignoring all requests to tone down their behaviour. They just don’t care.

They are genuine, card-carrying bogans. But these delinquents are not Schoolies, or crass young Australian tourists. They are local boys. And this seriously embarrasses the locals who work in the area. “They are not from here, they are from villages far away,” says one staff member dismissively. “They have no education, no jobs, and no money.” I point out that they have motorbikes. “Probably stolen,” snorts another local.

I ask whether there is anything that could be done for these young men to encourage them to be productive members of society. “No. We don’t want them here. They make visitors uneasy, and we can’t afford that,” says another local trader. “If they are here again tomorrow, we will call the local banjar office. They will take them back to their villages.” I suggest that they might be reluctant to go. “Then someone will beat them up until they agree,” laughs another. I can see that there is not much call for caring and sharing social workers here. Whether that is a good thing or not, I don’t know. Bali handles its problems in its own way.

What I do know is that despite Bali’s frenetic tourist-driven pace of development, opportunities for locals to share in the spoils will always be limited to those with drive, initiative and education. Those who want to participate in civil society will be the winners. Those who choose to opt-out, or who are forced to do so through family circumstances, poverty or ignorance will be the losers. And when you are a loser, all that is left is to hang around convenience stores, letting off steam to relieve the frustration and the hopelessness of life. For these people, I see no brightness of the future.

And it’s interesting that the solution here is to identify the under-classes, and then ship them out. Out of sight, out of mind. Does it work to clear the tourist areas of undesirables? Most certainly, albeit temporarily, because there are always more to take their place. Does it address the underlying causes of the problem? Of course not. But isn’t it the same everywhere?

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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.