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Retired Australian Honorary Consul Larry Cunningham has praised the recent taxi mafia crackdown on the island, saying developments have been “marvellous” and he is in full support of the proposed “baht bus” transport system for Patong.
Mr Cunningham, who stepped down from his diplomatic role in September 2013 after eight years, spoke to Phuket News TV about the recent developments this week.
Last week, an 150-strong task force, comprising both police officers and government officials from Kathu and Patong, could be seen over the weekend in Patong, Kalim, Cherng Talay, Surin Beach and Mai Khao demolishing dozens of taxi ranks built illegally on public land.
The force, comprising both police officers and government officials, was led by Region 8 Police Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Panya Mamen, Phuket Vice-Governor Jamroen Thippayapongthada and municipal leaders.
Seventy-three taxi drivers were arrested in the original swoop that took place across the island on June 4, out of a total 108 people wanted on 111 arrest warrants. The remaining drivers turned themselves in to police.
One partial solution to Patong’s tuk-tuk problems was offered by the new Mayor of Patong, Chalermluk Kebsap, who floated the idea of reorganising the town’s thousands of tuk-tuks to create a hop-on-hop-off public transport system.
Mr Cunningham, known for his outspokenness about the island’s problems with taxis, tuk-tuks and jet-skis, said the raids over the past week or so had been “marvellous, particularly regarding the transport situation”.
Wearing a T-shirt that said, “Against Corruption” in Thai, he told Phuket News TV, “I think the spinoff from that… I’ve already seen the new mayor of Patong [Chalermluck Kepsab] is talking about introducing baht buses, similar to what they have in Pattaya. Which would be marvellous.
“It would be marvellous for two things. One, it would help the people in Patong, but the other thing [is] it would show that the power base of these tuk-tuks and taxis has been broken. That has been the main thread throughout this whole point, it’s been power.
“We need taxis in Phuket in certain areas, we need tuk-tuks reasonably priced, but these people have so much power, like the jet-ski operators – they were untouchables. You couldn’t get close to them.
“And they had people of dark influence making billions of baht out of them and it made it very difficult for change.”