Taxi scams in Ho Chi Minh City: P2 the erratic meter
Updated : 08/30/2012 07:28 GMT + 7
Besides taking detours to increase fees, unscrupulous cabbies use a seemingly normal meter that is actually connected to an electronic device controlled by the driver, who can then order the rate to jump as high as he wishes.
This device is small, the size of a matchbox that can be hidden inside someone’s pockets.
It can alter the rates as displayed on the meter within a radius of 1.5m. When driving, the driver can secretly push a button on the device to increase the fee.
On average, the meter generally goes VND7,000-10,000 higher than it should be, depending on the programming.
Through a Tuoi Tre investigation, we came to know Mr. Tam, a supplier of these devices. On August 15 a driver came to Mr. Tam’s house in District 7 to ask for a taximeter and a rate-altering device.
Mr. Tam whispered “if you want a gun [slang for the device], just inform me in advance. Now it takes hours to install it”.
Tam said the device costs VND500,000 ($24) and a meter costs VND1.2 million. The total fee for installing the two is VND1.7 million.
Coping with police
At 6pm on August 10, around ten rip-off taxis were parked along Le Loi Street near Ben Thanh Market. When they spotted traffic police, several drivers reacted frantically. They removed the logos and took out the light boxes and hid them inside the rear trunks. They also removed the meters. All of this took place within two minutes at most.
Their ‘taxis’ had been turned into normal cars and there was no reason for the police to inspect them.
At 7.30pm, when the cops had left, the drivers started to take out their equipment and reattach it, turning their vehicles into rip-off machines once again.
At 10am on August 15, Tuoi Tre journalists witnessed a dramatic transformation near the New World Hotel on Le Lai Street, District 1: one driver peeled of the logo on the side of the car’s body that said “M.Taxi” and attached a new logo showing “taxi 27-7”.
Now, the logo on the side matched the logo of the light box on the vehicle’s roof. He then drove around Pham Ngu Lao Street.
Easy to get a license
On August 13, a man contacted the 27-7 Tourism Taxi Transport Cooperative in Tan Binh District. This cooperative is a company that leases its brand to individuals who own a car and wish to convert their vehicle into a taxi.
The protocol is simple: a taxi license will be issued on the condition that the car has ownership papers and the driver has a license, promises not to work for any other taxi brands and pays a ‘franchise’ fee of VND200,000 ($10) a month and a licensing fee of VND300,000 per year.
In addition, participants have to pay their own money to have logos printed, pay for a badge, taxi light box, a walkie-talkie and a white shirt.
But according to a cooperative employee, the shirts “are for them [traffic inspectors, police]. Drivers should have white shirts handy in the taxis but normally, it’s better to have a pair of shorts”.
This person also said the company regularly receives complaints about its licensed drivers.
“When complaints are filed, we have to find ways to settle the problem…on the one hand, we telephone the [fleeced] customer to apologize to them, on the other hand, we ask the driver to return the money to the customer”, he added.
The employee continued that “if the fare is VND200,000, it is acceptable to overcharge by several dozens of dong, but any higher than that is problematic”.
According to Ly Tan Tai, deputy head of an inspection team of the Ho Chi Minh City Transport Department, a South Korean tourist recently complained to the Korean Consulate General about a scam by an imitation taxi in which this tourist was forced to pay VND500,000 for a ride from Ben Thanh Market to District 7.
To solve problems like this, Tai’s team has proposed the listing of hotlines for traffic inspectors and traffic police inside taxis, as well as cooperation with other governmental agencies to increase checks at hotels, restaurants, wharfs and other regularly-visited areas.
According to Ta Long Hy, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Taxi Association, if taxi scams occur, the management cooperatives that leases out their brands are to blame. He added there are now many transport companies that only sell their logos and brands and do not care at all if their franchised cabbies cheat or not.
Hy added that the loophole lies in the simple registration procedure: anyone can get a taxi license.
Mai Linh taxis commit the most violations
In 2011, security forces at Tan Son Nhat Airport handled over 2,000 cases of taxi violations from 11 companies. Mai Linh taxis committed the most violations with 820 cases, followed by VinaSun (634), Saigon Air (110), and Saigon Tour (102).
The violations include refusing to take passengers walking near the taxi and asking customers to pay more, among others.
Meanwhile, in the first six months of 2012, there were 130 violations in Ho Chi Minh City. Of which, 103 cases involved not having a logo on the vehicles; four cases involved not installing meters or installing them incorrectly; and 11 others involved displaying different paint colors or telephone numbers than those registered.
Recent taxi rip-offs
On July 18, a cabby in Ho Chi Minh City was accused of overcharging an Australian tourist who had to pay VND6 million (US$300) for a 7km ride that should have cost $5 (from Bach Dang Wharf to Tan Son Nhat Airport). This taxi had a logo similar to that of Saigon Tourist.
In June, a cabbie posing as a Mai Linh employee ripped off two Spanish tourists, asking them, based on the taxi meter, to pay prices 20 times higher than normal.
In April, a taxi driver of Ho Chi Minh City-based Saigon Hoang Long Taxi Company was suspended for overcharging a Japanese woman and then stealing all her luggage.
Late last year, two Singaporeans, delegates to the 80th Interpol General Assembly in Hanoi, fell victim to a local scam taxi driver who overcharged them by 40 times the normal fee and even took away their cell phones.23-year-old cabbie Pham Van Sam has since been sentenced to five years behind bars on charges of “theft” and “illegally taking private property of others”.