Friday, February 13, 2009

One last thing about Malaysia...

I just want to take some time to talk about one thing that really bothers me about Malaysia, and that would be the taxi's. We had some problems with the taxi's when we first went to Kuala Lumpur, but promptly forgot about them because that was when we were still fresh to Asia and just wrote it off as not fully understanding how the culture is different here.

When we were just back, this time in Penang, we remembered our hassles from before. Taxi's in Malaysia do not use their meters, all taxi's have meters in them but they will just flat out refuse to use them - you tell them where you are going and then they will give you a price. You can then barter with them, usually getting them down by about 30-50% but it's a hassle and I feel bad for the people that don't like to barter. I enjoy it somewhat and have no problems walking away from a taxi if I think he's overcharging me - Tina eventually gets annoyed with me and we end up overpaying for a ride anyway.

Another issue is that you can flag taxi's down and they may or may not agree to take you to where you are going - that's standard pretty much everywhere in Asia, especially around shift change - but in Malaysia there are set taxi stands and you can't wave a taxi down if you are near these taxi stands, even if you just failed to reach an agreeable fare with them.

This time, while in Penang, we talked to one taxi driver and he explained a lot of the taxi problems to us - turns out he doesn't like their system either but he couldn't be convinced that there might be a better way. The government won't let them raise the metered fare and it is set so that if they were driving all day with customers the meter would barely cover the cost of the car much less the petrol. So therefore nobody uses the meter, but because of this people think they can haggle and since some people feel the need to see the price reduced (he was implying mainly the Chinese here) they raised their fares so that they can bargain down to a lower fare that is still acceptable.

All sounds good, but then guide books started noting that they didn't use meters and that you should barter - now everybody does it and the taxi drivers have to inflate their starting fares even more so that they can cover their expenses on the bartered costs.... Yep, it's that crazy.

Next, taxi's have to pay to stop at taxi stands - so in Penang for example, they may pay at 2-3 hotel stands in different areas of the city and maybe some tourist spots. We were told that this is so you would know who to complain to if you had a bad taxi driver, we think it's just a way for the city or these taxi clubs to make money off membership fees. However it makes it tough when outside of a hotel there are usually 5-10 taxi just waiting around and then you barter with the group trying to find the guy most hungry for a fare to accept your offer. If you can't find someone you need to walk 5+ minutes to the next taxi stand where a whole different set of taxi's will be waiting. So, if you are coming out of your hotel and a taxi pulls up to drop someone off chances are you can't get into that taxi - since they probably are not signed up with the taxi club of your hotel.

Finally - don't ask the bellhop at the hotel to get a taxi for you. You don't need to as there are usually plenty just across the street, and the driver will inflate the fare by 10-20 MR (3-5 USD) as a kickback for him. We had this problem going to the airport on the last day and all the guy did was wave at the taxi when we walked out of the hotel. We had asked before and were shown their standard rate (they have these printed on laminated sheets for main sites, but don't like to pull them out) - but the fare to the airport should have been 50 RM plus a 5% increase since we were going in off hours (23:00-07:00 - it was 06:00 when we left for the airport...) The taxi pulled up and told us it would be 100. We told him we knew it was 50 and he came down to 80, then 70, then finally agreeing to 53 which included the 5%. At the airport he again tried to raise the rate to 70, and then 60 before agreeing again to what we had agreed upon at the hotel. Can't say that they don't try...

That's all, just some information about how the taxi system works in Malaysia. If you go just be prepared to barter for the price, and pay attention to what fares they are charging. Look for their price list and base all of your further bartering prices off of that sheet. Oh, and try not to get as annoyed with them as I did.

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