By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
Whether you are a frequent patron of Malaysian taxies or not, you are bound to experience the same thing.
I'm not talking about not running on meter or overcharging, which I believe are the tricks of only a handful of irresponsible cab drivers. And every often, they have to resort to these because of livelihood.
What I am trying to say is that Malaysian taxi drivers always seem to have incessant grumbling.
From the moment you board their vehicles, they would start telling you how tough life has been, how unequal the society is and how powerless the government is.
A 30-minute ride could rival the most exciting political speeches one has come across anywhere.
Foreign cab drivers will do the same, without doubt, although they pale in intensity compared to their Malaysian counterparts.
I don't mean to poke fun at our taxi drivers here. As a matter of fact, the stress and dilemma they are going through are largely real and unfeigned.
If anyone has to work in a confined cabin for more than ten hours a day, and gets stuck in the perennial traffic jam and unbearable heat in addition to utter boredom, how would you expect him to enjoy life if what he takes home can hardly make ends meet?
I must say much of their disgruntlement has been largely derived from the existing system.
PM Najib has called it a kind of "modern slavery."
In the 1990s when the government put in place the new taxi policy, it has ruled that operating permits would only be issued to a handful of companies and not individuals.
Back then the government said this was to ensure systematic taxi services and better protection for the drivers.
A few companies later monopolise the operating permits. Those keen to drive taxies have to sign agreements with these companies to lease their vehicles.
A big chunk of taxi drivers' daily revenues would drain back to the leasors and they could only reclaim their vehicles after several years.
As a result, they have to be on the road for 12 hours a day and after paying for vehicle rents, fuel and maintenance, take home enough to pay for their basic meals and house mortgages.
You cannot expect top-rated service quality from someone living under tremendous weight of life, thus refusal to take passengers, overcharging and taking you for a ride.
Sure enough such acts can never be justified, but can be sympathised with.
A straitened middle-age cab driver took his life several years ago, leaving behind a paltry RM300 for his aged mother.
Back to the system. These taxi leasing companies are a by-product of the government's policy. They get their permits from the government itself.
But, does our government vet through these companies before permits are issued? Does the government scrutinise the conditions they have laid out for taxi drivers?
The existing system has fattened a handful of people with the right connections at the expense of the poor cab drivers.
Offering tyres and insurance coverage to taxi drivers will not negate such slavery system, which must be done away with at once.