Progress, but more problems with taxis?
As a nation with grand aspirations for industrial and commercial development, strong international cooperation and a thriving tourism sector, there is an obvious requirement for safe, secure and reliable publically available transport services in Timor-Leste. In Dili, population growth and the lack of alternative transport means that taxis will remain an essential form of public transport for the foreseeable future. Besides from its practicality and commercial benefits, a reliable 24-hour taxi service improves personal and community security, and can directly reduce the number of casualties from drunk or tired drivers.
It is for these reasons that Fundasaun Mahein (FM) has long advocated for better and taxis in Timor-Leste. It was in 2012 that we first blogged about the infamous daily taxi riot at Dili Airport, where international visitors were routinely confronted by aggressive taxi drivers from the very moment they stepped into the country. Around the same time FM was inundated with stories of extortion or outright stealing by taxi drivers in Dili, and we also reported on some truly shocking incidents involving the abduction and sexual assault of passengers.
Back then, FM advocated for an airport taxi rank, set-fare system, better airport security, and a broader training and registration regime for taxi operators and drivers. This campaign was partially successful in regards to the airport, and a more orderly taxi system was eventually established there including a set-fare regime (albeit one “standardised” to the degree that a 20 minute trip from the airport to Metiaut costs the same as a 5 minute trip to Delta).
Since our 2012 blog, there have been further developments in the Taxi industry with the creation of the Cooperativa Taxi Timor-Leste (CTTL) in late 2014, and more recently the introduction of a metered taxi on demand service. Although this blog should not be considered an endorsement of any particular private operators, FM does support generally any efforts from either the public or private sectors to provide safer and more secure public transport services (and we also acknowledge that many individuals as ‘good’ taxi drivers have previously, and continue to, provide a safe and reliable service).
Yet despite, or more likely due to, these developments, FM has recently received some reports of threats and acts of intimidation between rival taxi operators in Dili – particularly in regards to the new market players. Although at this stage the reports are that these incidents have been relatively minor, in our experience such minor threats often serve as a precursor to more serious violence. We are also aware of a broader developmental trend in Timor-Leste, where between business rivals there is often little distinction between commercial competition and violent confrontation.
To prevent such a situation it is therefore imperative that the relevant transport actors, including Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment, the Ministry Transport and Communication, the National Directorate of Cooperatives, Small and Medium Enterprises, the National Directorate of Land Transport, PNTL and all taxi owners, operators, drivers and industry groups come together to discuss and resolve any issues.
Furthermore, a meeting could provide an opportunity to explore ways to develop the taxi service from what is still predominantly a fleet yellow cars of various makes and vintages, charging fares independently of distance, professionalism and comfort, into to a well organised and regulated service industry. An inclusive strategic development plan for the industry, possibly also involving the Ministry of Tourism, could involve incentives and opportunities (such as Government subsidies and loans) for taxi drivers and owners to improve the quality of their vehicles and service to minimum standards, and creating a commission to enforce these standards.
If such a proposal is overly ambitious, at the very least it is vital that the potential violence within the industry be prevented through dialogue, planning and Government and security sector support where appropriate. A better supported and regulated taxi industry will be financially beneficial to the operators and drivers while also providing commercial and security benefits for the nation.
Therefore, FM recommends:
1. That relevant transport actors, including Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment, the Ministry Transport and Communication, the National Directorate of Cooperatives, Small and Medium Enterprises, the National Directorate of Land Transport, Ministry of Tourism, PNTL and all taxi owners, operators, drivers and industry groups come together to discuss and resolve the issues linked to potential conflict within the taxi industry.
(If you have information regarding incidents with Taxis in Dili please contact us – FM strongly protects the privacy of all of our sources)