Macau Matters | More Taxi Woes

Richard Whitfield

On February 1, the Macau Daily Times ran an article about a British/Philippine tourist couple who spent 6 hours in the Taipa police station after taking a video of a taxi driver who tried to charge them MOP100 for a trip from The Venetian to the Wynn Palace. This case raises many serious issues for the Macau government and the local tourism industry.

When they arrived to deal with the disturbance, the taxi driver alleged to the police that the couple had taken a video of him, and so the police took everybody to the local station. It then took six hours to finally determine that the video did not capture any images of the driver so that the whole allegation was false. The tourist couple then decided to not press charges of false allegation against the driver, I guess for fear that the whole mess would just continue.

This all happened on the 3rd day of the Chinese New Year, a peak tourist time, and yet there seem to have been no English-speaking police or casino staff available at the initial scene nor in the police station to quickly resolve the problem. For better or worse, English is the global lingua franca, and it seems ludicrous to me that no English speakers were available to act as interpreters. Surely, the casinos and the police do not assume that all tourists speak Cantonese or Putonghua.

Moreover, no legal help was available for the tourists. The police only showed them the law in Chinese and Portuguese. Again, in a place so reliant on international tourism, surely a system of emergency legal aid should be in place, even during public holidays? There must be many tourists getting into “hot water” during their visits and most will have no idea of local laws or how to find a local lawyer to represent them.

I am reliably informed that the couple tried to contact both the Hong Kong/Macau British and Philippine consulates and neither place had anybody on duty to answer calls. Given the very substantial British and Philippine presence in the region this seems totally unacceptable. From personal experience I know that the Australian consulate is useless, and it is disheartening to learn that the same can be said for the British and Philippine consulates. My wife tells me that there is always somebody to answer phone calls at the US Consulate, and she is a US Warden and is available (on a voluntary basis) to assist US citizens having difficulties here.

Next, I am very concerned about this whole legal situation of taking people’s photos. I cannot read the law and I am very concerned about its concept and implementation. Is it a blanket ban, so that anybody who appears in my streetscape photographs can charge me? Or is it something specific to taxi drivers, in which case I ask why do they deserve this special protection? I cannot understand any reasonable rationale for why I cannot take photos of people in public places performing public services – are you telling me that I can be charged if I take a photograph of a taxi driver assaulting a passenger as evidence of his/her criminal behavior?

It is very widely understood, and there is overwhelming evidence, that there are very serious problems with taxi services in Macau. Yet the government seems to bend over backwards and is willing to seriously damage Macau’s reputation as a tourist destination, the core of our economy, just to protect just a few “bad apple” taxi drivers and taxi owners. It is well beyond the time that major changes were made. Letting Uber and similar services operate here would largely solve the problems – what are we waiting for?

Categories Opinion