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Thursday, June 20, 2024

The abominable cabbie

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MANY Metro Manila dwellers have an image of the typical taxi driver in their heads.

Sporting a red shirt, he stops reluctantly when you flag him down. If you are lucky, he rolls down his windows so you can hear each other when you negotiate. He makes you feel defensive about your destination, or your decision not to take other forms of transportation instead. Even the weather, sometimes.

When you tell him where you are goaing, he just drives away dismissively making you wonder whether you did not just talk to a ghost. That, or he makes it known that going to your part of town is an absolute inconvenience to him. Plus 20, you offer, and he laughs as though you were a child. Plus 100, he says, until you meet halfway at 50. This is on a good day. Again, if you’re lucky, he agrees to let you into his vehicle. Other times he mumbles that the traffic is terrible, or he needs to stop by soon for a meal, or he is going somewhere else, or your destination is not along his way. You wonder when cabs started to have a pre-determined route.

Settle into your seat and get a whiff of how ill-maintained the vehicle is. You think twice about resting your back on the curduroy seat cover—it looks like it has not been washed in months. Look around and notice the grimy interiors.

While driving, the driver grumbles about the traffic, again and again, and if it’s really bad asks to jack up the tip. When you finally pay, they scold you if you do not have a smaller bill. They never give you back the change you are entitled to, either. You would be embarrassed to ask for it.

Not all taxi drivers are like this, of course. There are decent, courteous and honest ones—woe to their colleagues who smear their name and their profession.

Unfortunately, the deplorable behavior of erring drivers is justified by a representative of a taxi operators’ group. Lawyer Bong Suntay of the Philippine National Taxi Operators Association said cab drivers asking for additional fees is just akin to surges in Grab and Uber.

Suntay also said drivers stand to lose money if they bring passengers to places with heavy traffic, because they would be thinking of the high boundary they are supposed to meet.

But the burden to earn more should not be passed on to hapless consumers, especially now when they find themselves needing taxis with Uber’s suspension and its effect on the price of Grab rides these days.

The legal wrangling will continue but in the meantime, commuters are left with even less choices in going from one place to another, given the sorry state of public transportation—from the MRT and LRT to buses and jeepneys.

There is no excuse for greed or arrogance. If Suntay were truly concerned about how taxi drivers feel, then he should lead his organization to lower the onerous boundaries that lead them to forget that their business has a semblance of public service.

Then again, if the government were truly concerned about changing the lives of its people, it would seek to actually improve it, not make it stagnant or worse. It would create conditions where drivers are motivated, are behaved, and feel no need to pull one over their customers.


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