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Road Rage

Editorial: The Current Outcry by Illegal Transport Operators in Bali has as its Basic Root Cause Long-Standing Bad Governance and Bad Policing

(5/23/2011) A vociferous controversy is taking place in Bali, driven by illegal transport operators, many comprised of gypsy taxi drivers who troll the Internet and lurk outside hotels in search of customers.

Estimated to be numbering at perhaps six thousands, these unregulated taxi drivers operate vehicles unregistered as commercial vehicles not in compliance with safety inspection protocols, insurance and the taxation requirements imposed on bona fide tourist transport providers.

In the past, it is widely presumed that these illegal transport operators made on-the-spot facilitation payments when stopped during road inspections. But, a recent high-profile crackdown on illegal transport is suddenly seeing vehicles stopped, unsuspecting tourists disembarked, and drivers arrested to offered the choice of a Rp. 1 million (US$114) or jail terms. Due to the the amount of the fines as compared to their daily wages, a number of illegal transport drivers have little choice but to choose jail instead of paying the fine.

In angry response to the crackdown, the affected drivers have organized themselves under the umbrella of The Freelance Tourism Drivers Association to decry the recent crackdown. Protesting to the Island's administrators,  the freelance drivers complain that complicated procedures and expensive illegal levies needed to obtain an official tourism transport license are too burdensome, and that, moreover, as native Balinese, they have an inalienable right to a fair share of the tourism pie.

On another side of the dispute are legal tourism transport operators who bitterly complain they are made to compete on an uneven playing field with gypsy taxi drivers, villa owners and hotels who deploy unlicensed vehicles free of the burden they must bear for tourism vehicle permits, insurance, and payroll and corporate taxes .

Speaking on BaliTV, Ketut Eddy Dharma Putra, the chairman of the Bali Transport Association (Organda) also said that in addition to escaping tax and licensing obligations, the illegal vehicle often use predatory tactics with tourist visitors, demanding high commissions from shops and restaurants visited by their passengers, a practice that has the potential of damaging the island's tourism reputation.

Yet another side to the current dispute is occupied by tourism visitors who when unwittingly using illegal transport now face the prospect of being unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road when their driver, employed off a personal website or sitting in a cue outside a local hotel or villa, is arrested by police in a sweep of illegal taxis.

This three-way drama is being played out against a backdrop of the embarrassing public secret that bemoans an abysmal lack of professional law enforcement on Bali’s roads. This view of officially abetted lawlessness is reinforced by the daily experience of Bali’s motorists who witness a preponderance of helmet-less drivers breaking the mandatory helmet law; underage motorcyclists driving the wrong way on the wrong side of the major roads; grossly overloaded goods trucks literally tearing up the pavement; and the cynical, but well-founded, view of the parody played out before their eyes each day as frequent road blocks conducted by police almost never result in vehicle confiscation despite, by official estimates, 26% of all vehicles have inadequate paperwork.

Sadder still is the footnote that recent efforts to eliminate road-related corruption at its source through the computerization of driver licensing and vehicle registration is being fought "tooth and nail" by self-serving officials, oblivious to the angry demands of governor Pastika to get their house in order and start serving the public.

This ongoing state of affairs leaves those earning their livings on Bali’s roads in two distinctly divided camps. The first, occupied by largely law-abiding tourism transport operators demanding that their compliance with the law and participation in the taxation system should be rewarded by strict enforcement of the law restricting illegal transport operators. The second, is populated by illegal transport operators who find a lawlessness of the current system more to their liking, wondering why , in any case, would anyone bother to obey laws that are so selectively and seldom enforced?

At the true core of the problem are a cadre of uniformed officials who parade themselves as law enforcement officials, while failing to maintain the larger social covenant that is the framework of civilized society.

As is the case in some many instances in Bali today - from illegal buildings that violate zoning laws, to stalled infrastructure projects, to uncontrolled traffic congestion - the island is drowning in a plethora or problems, crying out for rules that are wisely drafted and stringently, impartially and transparently enforced.