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Thai taxi drivers protest draft law on Uber-type services

May 26, 2021 GMT

BANGKOK (AP) — An association of taxi drivers in Thailand on Wednesday urged the government to reconsider a draft regulation that would allow the use of private cars for online ride-hailing services, saying it would create unfair competition and cost taxi drivers their jobs.

Thailand’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved the draft, which would permit personal vehicles with up to seven seats to operate using Uber-style hailing apps. Such services have been operating for several years without regulation, the dominant one being GrabCar, part of Singapore-based Grab Holdings, which operates in Southeast Asia and Japan.

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob has said the Land Transport Department will finalize plans to implement the regulation within a month and hold a public hearing before it becomes law.

Saksayam said the move will benefit the public because it will give people more choices.

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Taxi drivers, however, believe it gives an unfair advantage to drivers using their private cars.

Krengkrai Kaewket, chairman of the Federation of Thai Taxi Workers, said private cars with engine sizes as small as 1200 cc will be allowed to offer the service, while taxi drivers are required to use vehicles with engines at least 1600 cc. There are additional requirements for taxis as well.

He said the federation earlier proposed to the ministry that it allow taxis with smaller engines, but it was refused for what was said to be reasons of passenger safety.

“We have to spend more than 1 million baht ($32,000) on purchasing vehicles to meet the regulations, while those who use small-engine cars pay half of what we pay, and now they are allowed to provide the same service. How can this be fair competition?” Krengkrai said.

There currently are about 83,000 registered taxis in Thailand, he said.

In 2018, the Department of Land Transport launched a ride-hailing app called “Taxi OK” to be installed in registered taxis in an effort to digitize and enhance the efficiency of taxi services.

Krengkrai said the app was a failure because taxi drivers have to pay an annual fee of 4,500 baht ($144) and it generates very few customers.

“We are fine if the draft is fair. They should regulate those ride-hailing service apps the same as they regulate us,” he said.

Taxi drivers plan to gather on June 2 at Parliament and at offices of the Land Transport Department to submit a letter of protest.

Grab, founded in 2012, has become the largest ride-hailing service operator in Southeast Asia. The company acquired U.S.-based Uber’s Southeast Asian operations in 2018. Its Grabfood delivery service is another major part of its drive to became what it calls an “Everyday Everything” app.