The Taxi Mafia Strikes Back

Apparently, it takes way more than magnificent skyscrapers and glitzy malls to make a modern country. Five minutes after our arrival in Kuala Lumpur at the Putra bus station, we came face to face with the city’s notorious taxi mafia making it quite clear that part of Malaysia is still quite unapologetically third world.

Although all taxis have a painted statement on the doors that the meter MUST be used and no alternate prices are acceptable, the smirking mafiosi insisted on ridiculously inflated rates. When we pointed out the meter requirement, the self-appointed local boss smugly countered, “I control this area, no meter.”

When Thomas pulled out his camera to take a picture of the statement on the taxi door, the man knocked his camera into the street. When I turned to go get a police officer, the man punched me in the back of the head and knocked me into the street as well. (Ouch.)

Loaded down with giant backpacks and daypacks, we awkwardly fled the scene and ran into a nearby mall where we asked locals in a coffee house to call the police. Nobody budged. We went to the coffee house owners and asked them to call. No luck. Everyone refused to make the call. Clearly, everyone perceived the police as an even greater threat than the taxi mafia.

Yeah, what were we thinking? Picture of the taxi door? Call the police? Dumb.

The glass towers, designer supermalls, mega-cinemas and trendy restaurants can lull you into the illusion that a country has standards. That illusion can prove dangerous if you forget for a moment where you are and what counts as “normal”. Perhaps this time, after a solid punch to the head, we’ll finally learn that lesson.

4 responses to “The Taxi Mafia Strikes Back”

  1. avatar Tony says:

    The taxi situation is terrible here – even worse than Bangkok. Many locals we have talked to here in Kuala Lumpur complain about how corrupt and vicious the taxis can be.

    Several locals have made reference to a particular minister who has financial interests in the continuing taxi scams and blame him for the problems. Many laugh at the statements printed on the cabs and have suggested it is virtually impossible for foreigners and Malaysians from other states to get taxi drivers to use the meter. They are wrong.

    Despite the fight described above, we have managed to get every taxi we have taken to use the meter. Our big mistake here was to allow ourselves to get caught up in a fight with them and allow tempers to get out of control. It’s a lesson we’ve already learned more than once. Hopefully, it will stick this time.

    A bit of advice. For some reason, we have discovered it is MUCH easier to get Indian taxi drivers to use to their meters with foreigners. We have no good explanation for this tendency.

  2. avatar Lisa Nunn says:

    Wow, this tops anything we encountered in Bangkok with you guys. Violence?! Heated, angry exchanges, sure, but fistfights?… YIKES!

    I’m glad that you were able to get some meter-taxis after all. I couldn’t have been easy. It wasn’t easy in Bangkok, and apparently Bangkok is a piece of cake compared to Kuala Lumpur.

  3. avatar James Clark says:

    Lucky you got out of that relatively unharmed! I have done the same thing, pointing to the sign on the door, but didn’t get in a scrape at least.

    I had the opposite situation to Tony (previous comment). I was staying at a hotel about 10 MYR away from Sentral Station and there were 5 Indian cabs drivers there, all quoting 30 MYR. A Malay taxi driver came forward and offered the fare using a meter. I guess it just depends on the day.

    • avatar Tony says:

      The taxis really are horrific. Yes, our experience with Indian cab drivers in Kuala Lumpur is likely just a complete statistical fluke. Although, we were in KL for almost three weeks, so it was a pretty long fluke 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.