The first sign of the trouble was on Facebook – a lady seeking advice for her friends, a British/Filipino couple, embroiled in another Macau taxi saga. The source of the second news of the incident was more concerning: within hours it had traversed to Manila and Melbourne. By Wednesday morning I was sent MDT’s article via Skype. The topic was then initiated by others in conversations with me on Viber and Messenger. Hong Kong, Indonesia and China were added to the list.
The sort of horror story these visitors from Hong Kong have to tell reverberates through our Macau community and beyond. With all the Chinese whispers, it goes something like this: A couple take a (typically problematic) short taxi ride from the Venetian to the Wynn Palace. The female passenger senses something is not kosher when the driver attempts to charge MOP100. Complaints of over-charging are made, the lady takes a video of the license number and conversation. The driver reports to the police that he was videoed and the passengers end up held at the Taipa police station. Assistance from a lawyer sees them released nearly six hours later with an option to accuse the driver of false allegations, but they return to Hong Kong with the wife still under suspicion and distressed by the day’s events and what may eventuate.
For a moment, the female passenger’s Filipino nationality as a possible compounding factor niggled at me. I have been shocked at the open discrimination in Macau; small things such as the agreeableness shown me at the supermarket checkout and the sneer to the domestic helper behind. A professional Filipina friend once confided in me that she took pains to dress impeccably and was never seen in jeans for fear of not being accorded civil courtesies. Although discrimination could conceivably have played a role in the driver’s response, there is a more formidable trend exemplified in this case.
Macau law states a driver’s duties are to present well; to stop when hailed; to assist with luggage; to give exact change; to be proper and courteous; and to follow the shortest route. Instead we have been made numb to the constant overcharging, refusal of passengers when the destination or passenger type does not suit the driver, circuitous routes and even violent behaviour. Beyond that we are hearing many more anecdotes of police protecting drivers at the expense of passengers; a worrying addition.
I sought out tips to manage shifty taxi drivers recently: “The taxi ID is a passenger’s only protection. Take a photo in China, then they don’t rip you off too much”, “The best is to take a photo and play with Google Maps.” These, however, seem ill-advised in Macau. Use that phone to protect yourself and you could be hauled before the courts. Many a disgruntled passenger has been driven to a police station for taking photos inside a cab.
Those who care about Macau’s international tourist reputation constantly raise and have been lobbying against the poor taxi service, the effect it has on visitor’s experiences and our daily affairs – “Honestly, even in Africa you get better service”. It’s problematic for business operations and undermines efforts to bolster our struggling MICE industry. If air crew returning home from the airport feel the need to change out of their uniforms or conceal them under greatcoats to successfully hail a cab, the service is doing us all a great disservice.
The sorry state of Macau’s taxis will never change until drivers and license holders benefit more by providing good customer service than swindling. That’s why Uber’s system of mutually beneficial incentives works.
Instead, taxis and passengers continue the stand-off. Soon they’ll be demanding we leave our last protective shield behind – our phones.