PUTRAJAYA - A growing number of foreigners are driving taxis illegally in Malaysia in defiance of a ruling which prevents them from doing so.
Sources claim that as many as 500 foreigners were at it, with the majority in the Klang Valley.
Checks by the New Straits Times found that foreign cab drivers, especially Indonesians, are common, particularly in the Golden Triangle area (KLCC, Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail), Bangsar, Ampang, Jalan Klang Lama, Kepong and Sunway. There are also a number of Pakistani and African taxi drivers, especially at night.
A Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) spokesman said there were 29,980 registered taxi drivers in the Klang Valley.
He said while official numbers for illegal taxis driven by foreigners did not exist, the recent Ops Alien, held in the first two months of the year, saw two Iranians and a Pakistani detained.
They were charged under Section 16 of APAD 2010, which carries a fine of not less than RM1,000 and not more than RM10,000 or a year's imprisonment or both. Companies hiring illegal drivers can be fined up to RM100,000.
But foreigners with permanent residence status can get Public Service Vehicle Licences (PSV) from the Road Transport Department and can register to drive taxis.
"SPAD conducts periodic operations with other agencies such as Immigration and RTD to curb this problem. We also have officers patrolling tourists spots such as KLCC, Pavillion, Bukit Bintang and Sunway Lagoon," said the spokesman.
SPAD also conducts spontaneous and covert operations.
"If you encounter such drivers, report to SPAD as soon as possible, with a physical description of the driver, the vehicle's registration number, type and colour, time and place of the encounter, and driver's card displayed on the dashboard," said the spokesman.
He said the issue had become one of the main focuses of the commission because it involved the country's reputation.
"Taxi service operators must have full control of their taxis and should know who are driving them. We will call these taxi operators to explain themselves," he said, adding that foreigners were normally found in the driver's seat after midnight when the licensed drivers were resting.
The spokesman said it was important for passengers to report rogue taxi drivers as it would help with enforcement.
Selangor Taxi Association secretary Rickman Hiew said taxi operators must display their identity permits issued by SPAD, which carried their name, age and licensing particulars.
"It is illegal to use another taxi driver's permit and it is also an offence to falsify details or impersonate another driver."
Hiew did not deny that there was an increasing number of foreign taxi drivers, saying the association had received a number of complaints from the public.
He revealed that there were more than 3,000 taxi companies in Klang Valley with about 35,000 vehicles, including executive taxis.
"Taxi operators cannot rent out their vehicles to foreigners, and local drivers know that it is against the law.
"There are legal implications, such as not being able to claim for insurance compensation in the event of accidents if the taxi driver does not have his paperwork in order."
Hiew also claimed that there were a number of passengers who complained that they were taken to the wrong places and the drivers were not able to communicate in Bahasa Malaysia or English.
Kepong resident M. Devi claimed that she had once boarded a cab driven by an African in Jalan Kepong.
"He was using another person's permit and for most of the journey, appeared to be abiding by the rules. I was too scared to concentrate on anything but nevertheless arrived home safely."
Kathijah Abdullah of Damansara said she encountered a Pakistani driver in Jalan 222, Petaling Jaya.
She was heading home after sending her vehicle for servicing.
"By the time I got into the taxi and realised it was a foreign driver, it was too late for me get out. I had an umbrella with me so I was clutching it (in fear) throughout the journey.
"The driver didn't know the way so I had to tell him where to go. Although he used the meter and I was not overcharged, I was nervous for my safety," she added.
Having a foreign driver take you home when you are a lone woman can be a harrowing experience, especially at night.
Jean Lim had experienced first-hand how dangerous it can be.
"On Dec 22 last year, I was held up at knifepoint by an Indonesian taxi driver. He claimed he needed to go to the washroom and drove to a petrol station.
"Then he returned with an accomplice who robbed me while he was driving. They took my money and mobile phone but sent me home safely before speeding off."
But it must be said that not all foreign cabbies are crooks as there are good-natured ones.
Ida Hashim has been fortunate enough to have an encounter with these cabbies.
"There are few nice ones who would care to ask (which direction to take). As for good practices, I commend most of them for knowing their destinations without having to check with you every few seconds. But even for those unfamiliar with a destination, I appreciate that they're willing to take me there as long as I know where I'm headed," she said.