Members of underground gangs are forcing bus drivers in Ho Chi Minh City to pay them a “fee” when they pick up passengers along their routes that link the city to other localities, a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper investigation has found. Over the past several years, a number of gang members have set up “checkpoints” on belt routes around the city, upsetting both bus drivers and their passengers. They force drivers to pay up to VND10,000 (US$0.46) per passenger compelled to get on their buses under their “arrangement.” The drivers then charge such passengers VND10,000 more each to make up for the “fee” they have to pay to underground members. That means in fact, the final victims are passengers, not drivers.Tuoi Tre detected a trio that mugs drivers on Nguyen Van Linh Street, Binh Chanh District, which leads to the Ho Chi Minh City-Trung Luong expressway, which links the city to Tien Giang and Long An Provinces in the Mekong Delta. The leader of this gang is Quan, 36, hailing from the southern province of Vinh Long, who charges any bus that stops on the street to pick up passengers before entering the expressway. As witnessed by Tuoi Tre reporters on August 4, Quan and his men asked people waiting for buses on Nguyen Van Linh Street where they wanted to go to. The trio then chose and signaled for buses to stop to pick up those passengers whose destinations matched the routes of the vehicles. From 9:00 to 11:00 am, the three provided about 40 passengers to roughly 30 buses, and demanded VND5,000-10,000 per passenger from the drivers. That means Quan still charged drivers for his “arrangements” even though passengers could choose buses by themselves and the drivers could pick up the passengers without his “help.”
There was one case in which a driver intended to speed away after picking up passengers, but Quan prevented him from leaving and asked for money. While the driver pleaded for a reduction, Quan turned him down, swore at the man and almost beat him.
Giang (L), an underground man, is pictured collecting the "passenger-picking fee" from a driver near Suoi Tien Amusement Park in District 9, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Binh, a passenger, told Tuoi Tre that he often travels to Tien Giang for only VND50,000 ($2.3), but whenever he was “arranged” by Quan to get on a bus, he later was charged VND60,000 ($2.75) by the bus driver. It turns out that the driver recovered the paid fee of VND10,000 by charging it additionally on each passenger. As far as Tuoi Tre knows, Quan’s gang has operated there for three years. Quan arrived in the city six years ago as a bricklayer. He told Tuoi Tre that his group can earn VND500,000-600,000 ($23-27.5) per day. Two other gangs operate on the route from the An Suong overpass in Hoc Mon District to the Binh Phuoc overpass in Thu Duc District. Vinh, 45, hailing from Tien Giang, the leader of one of the two, charges bus drivers VND10,000 per passenger at An Suong. Like Quan, Vinh is ready to beat any driver who refuses or avoids paying the fee. The other group is led by Trinh Van Tien, 32, of the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, who frequents the Binh Phuoc overpass. Another gang was found in the Suoi Tien area in District 9, led by Giang, 34, hailing from the north-central province of Nghe An. Police in Thu Duc District said they will check and strictly handle the situation which Tuoi Tre has uncovered. The Binh Phuoc overpass area in the district is very complicated in terms of social evils, a district police official said. Police have installed many cameras to detect and prevent social crimes, he added. Meanwhile, while talking to Tuoi Tre on the phone, police leaders in Hoc Mon and Binh Chanh Districts said they have yet to hear about the mugging that has been exposed by the newspaper. Police in District 9 said they have deployed detective forces to inspect the areas after being informed of the mugging, but they have yet to find any people committing the crime so far.