Fri, Aug 26, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Controlling the taxi menace

For those in Taiwan who regularly ride a scooter or motorcycle, the danger of taxis suddenly pulling to the side of the road to pick up a cab fare is well-known. Many is the time that a taxi driver hungry for business almost kills someone on a scooter simply to snatch what could turn out to be a NT$70 fare. Taxis are like the barracudas of the road — they cruise around steadily, but when they pounce, you had better not be in their way.

Many of the pedestrians hailing taxis contribute to the danger. More often than not, they are hell-bent on getting into the nearest taxi as quickly as possible, and the thought that simply raising their arm in the air could be the difference between life and death for a motorcyclist never occurs to them. Although they should know better, pedestrians still hail taxis at the most crowded, dangerous, bottle-necked places possible.

Trying to survive this dual road menace — the predatory taxi and the enticing pedestrian — is a daily challenge for all two-wheeled vehicle drivers.

That is why it was comforting to see academics, including Feng Chia University professor Lee Ke-tsung (李克聰), call on the government to revise laws prohibiting taxis from endangering the public in their pursuit of fares.

“Improperly stopping a taxi is dangerous,” Lee said.

That could not be more obvious for the family of a university student who recently died after a taxi he was driving behind stopped with no warning to pick up a fare, causing a chain reaction that led to the student being run over and killed.

Although Lee and other academics advocated imposing fines on passengers who hail cabs at inappropriate places, it is unlikely that this approach would work given the lack of police manpower to enforce the law and their apparent lack of interest in doing so. There are already plenty of laws stipulating where, when and for how long a taxi can stop, with fines of between NT$300 and NT$600 — a slap on the wrist — to be issued to taxi drivers who, say, stop at a pedestrian crosswalk or linger near a bus stop.

However, these laws have done little to stop the practice. What is needed is an approach similar to that of Hong Kong and Guangzhou — taxi stands.

In those two places, it is difficult for pedestrians to hail taxis on any street they want. There are plenty of places that they can walk to, however, where they can find a waiting line for taxis to pick them up. The taxi stands are known to taxi drivers, so they cruise around looking for those where people are waiting. It makes life more convenient for the taxi driver and the motorist, but places a little more responsibility on pedestrians by asking them to find a taxi stand — not much to ask for greatly enhanced road safety.

Something like this is already taking place in Taiwan. Long lines of taxis can be seen waiting at most MRT stations, especially the major transit stations, and taxi waiting areas have been established near bus depots and shopping centers. Convenience stores with computer call systems can also be pick-up spots for taxis and passengers. The skeleton of a system is already there.

Now it is time to take that system to its logical conclusion and ban outright taxi pick-ups other than at established places. Such a system would improve everybody’s lives, even that of the pedestrian trying to hail a taxi, because he or she would not have to leap out of the way of flying taxis when walking over a crosswalk after getting out of a cab.

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