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Who Speaks for the Public?

Editorial: The Real Victim in Bali's Taxi War Continue to be the Public.

(3/15/2010) The continuing brouhaha within Bali's taxi industry [See: Heil! Taxi! Heil!] shows no sign of abating. Cast in the local media in the role of "bad guys" are the operators of Bali's Blue Bird Taxis fleet - PT Praja Bali Transportasi. Their detractors, drawn largely from the ranks of drivers from competing taxi companies - Wahana Taksi Bali, Ngurah Rai Taksi Bali, Komotra Taksi Bali and Kowinu Taksi Bali demonize the Blue Bird armada as usurpers of their preeminent right to carry tourist across the island. In a plot with more pot holes than a Bali side street, the self-proclaimed "good guys" cry cruel victimization at the hands of the evil folks at Blue Bird.

Sadly, in the great battle of Bali's taxi companies, the first casualty of the conflict was "truth."

On its most basis level, the current polemic exemplifies much of what's wrong with Bali tourism. where tourists are viewed as a "bone" to be fought over. In this convoluted view of the world, Bali's tourist visitors are the exclusive spoils to be enjoyed by certain sectors of the community who, without pause or question, are entitled with full license to use, abuse and manipulate the hapless tourists who climbs in the back seat of their cabs. Missing from the equation is even the slightest notion that Bali's tourists might also have rights that should be protected and preserved.

In the ongoing taxi melee, the so-called "good guys" miscast the Blue Bird Taxis fleet as the "bad guy." The label of "bad guy," however, just won't stick when applied to Blue Bird - an award-winning taxi company that is the darling of both locals and visitors alike. The Company's well known commitment to maintaining a disciplined crew of drivers who are unfailingly courteous and legendary for the many tales of passengers' valuable left in their cars being returned, explains why people let competing taxis pass while waiting for the next available Blue Bird.

And, should this assessment seem too harsh, consider also the many complaints surrounding Ngurah Rai'a airport-based taxi monopoly that practices an arbitrary pricing system that charges more to travel from the airport to the foreign-tourist haunt of Sanur while charging considerably less to ride to the much more distant domestic bus terminal at Ubung. This inequity in fares structure is also found in the island's metered fleet, as demonstrated in the comments of an Indonesian taxi passenger who told the English language press last week that he pays Rp. 30,000 to Blue Bird to travel over the same distance that would cost substantially more in metered taxi operated by competing firms. See, too, on-line travel forums that contain frequent comments from travelers who choose to lug their luggage to the airport's perimeter to hail a Blue Bird rather than be compelled to one of the airport's "official taxis."

While the debate on who's the real victim in the ongoing taxi war in Bali will continue ad nauseam, there's little doubt that the real victim remains the public dependent on taxi service in Bali.

And, take note: their suffering will only increase if current protests succeed in shrinking or eliminating altogether Blue Birds service. Should that scenario come to past, the owners of the monopolistic franchise on taxi service will enjoy an even freer hand in their peculiar pricing practices; reacting angrily and indignantly when anyone has the audacity to challenge their misperceived "birthright" to behave badly.

In such a troubled atmosphere, it's easy to see why Blue Bird - a company that openly solicits customer feedback and places passenger safety and comfort above all else, is seen as a threat.

Too Many Taxis in Bali?

Beyond its excellent service culture, Blue Bird is assuredly a professionally managed taxi company. Their request for licenses to add hundreds of additional cars to their current armada is almost certainly based on careful market studies and their growing inability to meet the strong demand for their services.

Meanwhile, the other taxi operators in Bali are peeved. They are powerless as they watch customers who'd prefer to stand in the rain waiting for the next Blue Bird rather than ride in one of their taxis. As a result, they resort to a sucker's game. Unable to identify their own shortcoming and raise their service game to obtain more business, they choose instead to try to eliminate the competition through political pressure, street demonstrations and the occasional harassment of the public traveling by Blue Bird.

In truth, there's plenty of room in Bali for more professionally operated taxis. If this was not the case, Blue Bird would not be seeking to expand its fleet.

We feel it's high time that the public are provided a modicum of protection and a voice how their transportation needs are met in Bali. At the very least, island authorities should encourage excellence and allow companies that provide better service at better rates to prosper and flourish.

Assuming the government wants world class taxis service in Bali, let's consider the following as starting points:

The establishment of a viable consumer protection bureau that solicits and actively processes complaints for poor service and inferior product quality all areas touching upon the delivery of the island's diverse tourism product.

A critical re-examination of the current taxi monopoly held by the taxi cooperative at Ngurah Rai Airport within the protection afforded the public under the national anti-monopoly law of 1999.

A system, such as that practiced by Angkasa Pura at Jakarta's international airport, in which a form is handed to taxi customers recording the taxi number and providing a contact for any potential complaints.

A crackdown, including the possible confiscation of vehicles, on hundreds of unlicensed gypsy taxi operators lurking outside almost every hotel and shopping area across the island. This move alone would correct any supply and demand issue, while removing another source of frequent complaints from island visitors.

In another time and another place, it was once quipped that "all the guys who know how to run the country are driving taxis." And, while that may be so, but just this once the guys behind the wheels need to clam up and listen to the long-suffering voices from the back seat.