KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 (Bernama) -- The 1Malaysia People's Taxi (TR1Ma) Programme, to be held this Sunday, is another government effort to recognise the taxi drivers' role in the country and to improve the quality of public transportation throughout the nation.
Moreover, the TR1Ma, to be held at Bukit Jalil Sports Complex's car park, will provide taxi drivers the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, as well as listen to the Prime Minister's message for them, including information about the aid pledged for drivers.
TR1Ma is a programme designed to demonstrate the government's appreciation for taxi drivers, who are seen as the nation's 'little ambassadors', especially since they are always in touch with the different strata of society.
Therefore, they indirectly play an important role in enhancing the nation's image, explaining the government policies and also assisting with promoting tourist attractions throughout the country.
THE DRIVERS CHALLENGE
Each day, about 67,000 taxis throughout the country ferry passengers to their destinations. Though the taxi service is vital in the daily lives of the public, many taxi drivers live hand-to-mouth.
Indeed, the rising cost of living and the spiraling cost of maintenance and operation has pushed many taxi drivers to the edge of poverty.
Moreover, in the nation's capital, for example, the large number of taxis on the road has created intense competition for passengers.
Also in Kuala Lumpur, competition from alternative public transportation being continuously developed by the government under the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) - buses, LRT, commuter - has effectively eroded taxi drivers' earnings.
Additionally, taxi drivers have to endure the antics of passengers -including some who don't want to pay, over-sensitive passengers and the list goes on - calling for greater patience on the driver's part.
Apart from that, the bad press drivers receive due to a small number of incidents, such as from refusing to use meters or imposing high charges, has earned them the public's wrath.
Despite all this, it is just another day's work for the drivers and the taxi's relevance in the public transportation landscape remains intact, as it is still the only sector providing door to door services.
THE TAXI DRIVER'S PERSPECTIVE
When asked for his views on TR1Ma, Abd Razak Abd Aziz, the secretary for Klang Valley Taxi Driver's Association (PPTLK), was obviously elated.
Though he no longer drives a taxi, as he now owns his own taxi firm, he is happy that the government is looking into the problems faced by taxi drivers.
Previously, he was no more than a taxi driver, yet through sheer hard work he is now the owner of Avenue Drive (M) Sdn Bhd, which owns more than 500 taxis.
However, Abd Razak admits that the present day scenario is different, compared to when he was driving, since today a taxi driver has to be on the road for 10-12 hours per day if he is to earn enough to save.
"It is a highly challenging scenario at present due to the large number of taxis on the road. Previously, when I was on the road for 8-10 hours, I could earn between RM50-RM100 and save a portion of the money," he says.
"To emerge as an entrepreneur, one has to seek knowledge. I have even attended entrepreneurial courses to learn the ways to manage this company," says Abd Razak, who is the managing director of Avenue Drive (M).
TAXI DRIVERS CLOSELY WATCHED BY THE GOVERNMENT
Though the drivers have to adhere to numerous regulations, some considered burdensome, they comply to assure the comfort and safety of their passengers.
On the other hand, the government, too, is concerned with the taxi drivers' well-being and has extended help from time to time. This includes the exemption on the repayment of excise duty and road tax for taxis more than seven years old upon ownership change, as announced in the 2012 Budget.
TR1Ma is another of the government's approaches in winning the hearts of taxi drivers and in assisting them.
About 5,000 taxis and some 25,000 persons registered as the first driver, and their families will congregate at TR1Ma. Numerous activities have been arranged, including interactive exhibitions, information booths, award presentations, shows and sales.
Through TR1Ma, taxi drivers will be given vouchers to subsidise the cost of buying new tyres and allocated group insurance facilities.
Abd Razak, like the taxi drivers, views TR1Ma as a good approach and hopes it will continue in the future.
"We are grateful for the fact that the number one leader in the country is coming down to meet the taxi drivers and listen to their concerns. This goes to show he is ready to listen to our woes.
"We are satisfied and extend our appreciation for the benefits enjoyed all this while and also for the TR1Ma, and we hope that this is just a start and that the benefits will continue to flow," Abd Razak added.