by Nguyen Thanh Ha
Ha Noi has more than 17,000 taxi operating in the city and the parking area needed for them is about 10-15ha, but current acreage accounts for only 5-10 per cent of their total need, according to the Ha Noi Taxi Association.
The Ha Noi department of Transport and Communications has proposed another 300 parking lots for about 3,200 taxis, compared with the 32 current parking lots with stopping times limited to 15 minutes.
The initiative resulted from the fact that many taxi drivers have to stop on banned streets and other crowded areas to pick up or drop off their customers, making traffic jams worse, said Nguyen Hoang Linh, deputy director of the department.
Taxi driver Nguyen Van Long, from the Phu Dong Taxi Co, said, "Once I took a sick man to Bach Mai Hospital. I had to stop at the gate to let him out of my taxi, but suddenly the police came and fined me VND800,000 (US$40). I know very well that it wasn't a drop-off area, but how was my customer supposed to deal with their problem if the parking is over 1km from the hospital gate.
"The fine is nearly one third of my monthly salary. First I thought I should give up my job, but how else could I earn a living to feed my small children and my ailing parents," Long said in tears, adding that it's not completely his fault, but rather the city's for having a shortage of parking lots.
Like Long, Dang Dinh Hung of the Van Xuan Taxi Company said earning money from taxi driving is a very hard job nowadays because there are crowds of taxis and finding a customer is not easy. But each time I receive a call from a customer, I'm often very worried if I will be able to stop to pick them up or drop them off. He recalled a story: "Recently I drove a pregnant woman to the Central Maternity Hospital. I had to drive around many times to find a drop-off area to let the woman out, but I couldn't find one, so the woman began crying loudly that she might give birth to her child in my taxi.
"I was very afraid of that situation, so I stopped near the hospital on Trang Thi Street. As a result, I was fined VND800,000 despite the awful situation I had to face," Hung told Viet Nam News.
To Thi Thanh Huong of Ha Noi's Hai Ba Trung District said one day she called a taxi to take her home on Tran Khat Chan Street.
"The driver urged me to have my taxi fare of VND30,000 ($1,5) ready and in my hand so that he could stop very quickly, let me out, and drive away before the police could stop him and give him a fine.
"When I was getting out of the taxi, the driver was in such a hurry to pull away that he caused me to fall down in the crowded street. I could have been killed or injured," Huong said.
She said that she agreed with the city authorities on banning taxis from stopping on the streets, but relevant agencies should find more suitable areas for taxis to stop, the same as they do with the bus service. This would serve both taxi drivers and customers.
Ho Thu Hang from the central province of Nghe An recently visited Ha Noi, and she said she had to pay VND180,000 to go from Ho Guom (Sword Lake) in the city centre to Van Mieu (The Temple of Literature).
"First I didn't agree to pay, but the driver spoke loudly and intended to beat me. I was so afraid that I paid him.
"My friend in Ha Noi told me that I should use a taxi from the big firms, such as Thanh Nga and Phu Dong, because their prices are reasonable," Hang said.
Duong Quang Nghi, an overseas Vietnamese from Los Angeles, who returned to the country to do business, said he didn't know why Ha Noi had so many taxis when compared to places like Singapore.
"But Ha Noi taxi service is of low quality compared with others," Nghi said.
Nguyen Hoang Linh, deputy director of Ha Noi Transport and Communications, admitted that more than 17,000 taxis is an overload for the infrastructure of the capital city.
"Our business law too easily allows transport firms to be set up. For example, an individual that owns 2-3 taxis could also get a licence to become a taxi company.
"As a result, these small firms, including unlicensed ones, have caused many problems for the authorities and people," said Linh.
He said he hoped that these small firms would merge to improve their services and ensure better business results. But it could be very difficult, he added.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Ha Noi Transport Association, Bui Danh Lien, said one solution for creating a quality taxi system and improve service is to rate the companies by assigning them stars for quality. This should be published widely in the mass media so people will know how to choose a good service for themselves.
For example, those taxis giving the highest quality service will receive three or four stars accordingly and those of lower quality will receive one or two stars, Lien said.
Deputy chairman of Ha Noi People's Committee Nguyen Van Khoi said he agreed with Lien and the proposal to build 300 new parking lots for taxis.
The initiative is expected to be implemented by the end of this year, Khoi said. — VNS