Rotten welcome
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - March 14, 2018 - 12:00am

Last Sunday a Tsinoy returned to Manila with his wife and daughter from a vacation in Taiwan. Outside the arrival area of the NAIA Terminal 1, he talked to the taxi dispatcher. They agreed that the fare for the drive to his home in Manila would be based on the meter reading, with no add-on fees, rather than on a contracted rate.

The Tsinoy remembered that in November last year, a metered taxi ride from the NAIA Terminal 3 to his home cost him only P176. He figured that from the NAIA 1, there would be only a minor difference.

So they loaded their luggage into the trunk of a white Polanne taxi with license plate UWN 839 and got in. It was around 4:45 p.m.

Just minutes into the ride, near the NAIA flagpole, the Tsinoy noticed that the driver had not yet activated the meter. When he mentioned this, the driver requested that they fix the fare at P700.

The Tsinoy said the dispatcher had assured him that the ride would be metered. He cited his fluent Tagalog and said he was no foreigner. The driver then bargained for P600 and then P500. Even with TRAIN, the Tsinoy thought correctly that this was too much. Near Roxas Boulevard, the Tsinoy told the driver to let them off. The driver then poked at the meter and it began running – rapidly. When it hit P100 just past Roxas Boulevard he pulled over, but he wouldn’t open the trunk, saying his contract was to drive the passengers to Manila.

As the argument went on, several security guards from a nearby hotel approached, and the cabbie finally popped the trunk open. As demanded by his passengers, he issued a smudged receipt for P120. The Tsinoy’s daughter booked a ride on Grab taxi and they got home with no further incident.

There was no photo or information on the driver posted inside the cab, but the Tsinoy took down the license plate.

*      *      *

In December, a Taiwanese friend of the Tsinoy also complained that he took a cab from Makati to NAIA 3 and was asked to pay P1,500. Worried for his safety although aware that it was highway robbery, the Taiwanese managed to bring down the fare to P1,000.

Cabbies at the NAIA prey not just on foreigners or foreign-looking Pinoys but also on those who appear to be overseas Filipino workers.

Some years ago a young woman picked up her friend at the NAIA 1 who arrived for a vacation from her work in Dubai.

The taxi dispatcher at the arrival area told them that the drive to their home in southern Metro Manila would cost P1,500. Knowing that this was too steep, the two walked farther away from the terminal, with the passenger’s two pieces of large luggage in tow, and hailed a white taxi. The driver agreed that the fare would be based on the meter reading, and he did switch on the device.

Throughout the ride, the two women chatted animatedly. Arriving at their destination, however, the two belatedly realized that the meter registered only the distance, and the driver set the fare: P2,200. When they protested, the taxi doors were automatically locked from the driver’s side. Frightened, the two women pleaded with him, saying the worker from Dubai was just a manicurist who didn’t earn much.

Still no deal; the driver was unmoved. The door and the trunk opened only when the two had forked out the P2,200. Unfortunately, the two women were too flustered and forgot to take down the taxicab’s name and license plates.

I thought this racket had ended, but the stories of the Tsinoy and the Taiwanese show that it is very much alive.

*      *      *

Besides airports, the mass transportation gives travelers indelible first impressions of a country. I always warn relatives and friends traveling to Jakarta and Moscow, for example, to be careful of dishonest cabbies. An additional warning in Jakarta: there are dishonest moneychangers even at the airport.

During my recent visit to Japan, I simply pulled my luggage from my hotel in Tokyo’s Ginza district to a train station nearby, took an elevator down to the subway level, boarded an express train and was at Haneda International Airport in about 40 minutes for my return flight to Manila.

I could have also taken a cab from the hotel to the bus station, from where the duration of the drive to Haneda would have been about the same.

Similar mass transportation facilities are available in many other countries. I can book seats and buy tickets online even from Manila. I’ll probably be dead before such transport facilities become available here.

We don’t have trains from the NAIA or even an efficient bus or shuttle system. Travelers are instead stuck with taxis. Because of steep taxi fares, Filipinos rely on relatives to pick them up or take them to the NAIA in private vehicles. This is why the parking lots at the three NAIA terminals are always congested.

Millions of Filipinos don’t have their own cars, and are forced to take cabs from the airport. Foreigners with no hotel shuttles also have no choice but to take the taxis.

If only to give travelers a good impression of the country, those taxi services should be made as honest and efficient as possible.

And if this proves to be impossible, we should at least have special courts where complaints about dishonest or abusive cabbies can be brought and resolved ASAP. The typical foreign visitor is in town for only a few days and the prospect of long litigation could discourage the traveler from filing complaints about minor offenses.

Letting petty crooks off the hook, however, guarantees a repeat of the offenses. And unable to get redress, those foreign travelers will spread their sad experience in the Philippines to their relatives and friends.

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