The Two Sides To Bangkok’s Motorbike Taxis

For many of us, Bangkok’s motorbike taxis are lifesavers when we need to beat the traffic and get to places quickly.

They zigzag their way through and take undiscovered routes to our destination. We love them for it and we surely respect what they do.

But there’s a darker side to these guys and their life that most of us don’t know about.

The situation

In one corner, you have the little guys trying to make it.

The loyal, hard working men and women who legally register with their hard earned money to become fine members of the motorbike taxi community.

On the other side, there are the motorbike taxi ‘gangs’ reportedly run and protected by a mafia of influential people.

Make no mistake, these guys don’t have it easy either, dealing with continual threats and harrassment to pay bribes.

And now, you have foreign-owned Uber and Grab entering the ring with their vigilante-like bike services, angering all types of people, despite their good intentions.

All these different sides put together are a sure recipe for disaster.

A ticking time bomb.

And that is exactly what has been happening lately, as you can see by this latest altercation between some registered drivers and a Grab Bike:

Ultimately, the Department of Land Transport (DLT) have stepped in and ordered a halt on all operations of Uber Moto and Grab Bike, thanks to the ongoing conflict.

My personal view on it

At first, I was very upset when the DLT halted Uber Moto and Grab Bike as I heavily relied on them.

They provided an amazing service, especially at locations where there are no signs of the registered motorbike taxis.

According to the DLT, both were running operations illegally. Sure, that is true.

But what about the less than stellar service of some of the so-called bike gangs?

How about the time my friend almost lost his life on the back of a local motorbike taxi as he was driving recklessly, trying to avoid getting caught by the cops because he had drugs on him?

No, not my friend.

The motorbike taxi guy!

Where were the justice system and the laws then? Was that an isolated incident? I don’t think so.

News reports of the police seizing motorbike taxi drivers carrying marijuana and other illegal drugs are commonplace. Sure, they are getting caught and justice is being served — but what about the ones who aren’t getting caught? Who will be held accountable for their actions?

At least with Uber or Grab, we as the customer have someone to blame if the shit hits the fan.

And it’s not just me who feels this way.

Of course, Uber and Grab should abide by the rules and regulations and avoid undercutting the hard-working, friendly and loyal motorbike taxis.

In a perfect world, there should be healthy competition and not a monopoly of taxi gangs. When faced with fair competition, they shouldn’t respond with thuggery.

I am all for justice and equality, but perhaps there should also be a focus on safety and fairness.

In my experience, I’m overcharged by registered motorbike taxis about half the time I use them. If I’m taking one from my home, because they know me, they always charge me the fair rate.

Coming back is a different story; even though we’re traveling the same distance, I’m almost always overcharged. Let’s assume for a minute that price is not a factor because I can’t really argue over ฿30 when I’m buying drinks for ฿300 at a hotel bar.

But my safety IS an issue.

The other day, I was looking for a motorbike taxi stand and when I found one, the only two who were there were drinking out of a whisky bottle. Obviously, I took a pass but the poor soul who walked behind me probably missed it as he hailed for one of them. The motorbike guy swiftly chugged the last few gulps and hopped on his bike.

I fail to understand why there is such a dichotomy and disconnect between Uber and Grab’s motorbike services being shut down for competition reasons and the lack of effective activity against the misbehaving registered drivers.

With Uber Moto and Grab Bike, I was always taken care of. They provide a helmet. They don’t drive recklessly and they are certainly extremely polite. They might not always know the way but I never worry about scraping my knees into the side mirrors.

I honestly wonder what kind of vetting process these motorbike taxi guys go through before getting their registered vests. Maybe a psychological evaluation stage is overdue?

If the DLT continue to deny us access to competitive alternatives like Grab and Uber, I implore them to enforce stricter laws on the registered motorbike taxi drivers to make them more user friendly. Vet them properly, and not just slap on a huge fine or registration fees (that can rack up to a whopping ฿400,000 for a vest).

I understand that the government is already doing everything they can to take action against any illegal activities they find, but there are still many who slip through the net. I guess in the end though, as Major-General Apirat stated, it is up to us to report any illegal behaviors we spot; although I wonder whether our grievances would just fall on deaf ears.

Similarly, I also plead Uber and Grab to start following rules and regulations. This is something should have been dealt with in the first place! Don’t tease us with your amazing services and solutions only to find out it is illegal. If they would just get their riders registered with the government, they could operate again. Sure, the prices would increase, but at least they provide a reliable service.


Featured image is by Mark Fischer and used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence