Readers' Submissions

Poor Taxi Drivers



I have to admit, I am regularly amused by farangs who lash out the now classical remarks "poor taxi drivers. Fares are so cheap, and what with the price of oil that's climbing out the f***ing roof, long hours for a pittance, not to mention 'em bloody traffic jams. Poor guys".

That comment keeps popping up on Stickman's and I figure maybe I will try and dispel the myth. I don't expect all of you to agree, but since most farangs pride themselves of an inquisitive mind and good judgment thanks to first world education, there is bound to be a few who dig it. (I am farang too)

1. Taxis don't run on gas. I know they keep saying the gas prices are going up. That's true, but they don't use it.
2. Have you noticed just how many taxis there are in Bangers? Think about it. I have never seen a city with as many taxis as the city of angels. LA, London, Paris, Hamburg, Taipei, … not one of them compare, in terms of sheer numbers. If taxis so bad, why are they so many?
3. I chat with taxi drivers quite often. Their rent for the taxi is usually between 500-800 baht a day. A day of work will usually net them 1200 up (give or take 60 baht a ride with about 20 customers in a day). So we are talking about 500 baht per day "inzepocket". With 25 days a month (pretty normal per Thai standard, even a bit low), that's 12,500 baht a month income for the guy. Back in native Isaan, that guy made 4,000 breaking his back in the rice fields. Here, he gets 3 times as much to sit in a car with air conditioning all day. To give another point of comparison, hotel staff, central store sales staff,… All get about 7,000-9,000 a month, if that. And that is all *before* you factor in tips and "other revenues"
4. What "other revenues"? Moonlighting as pimp for one. Many do. If a taxi driver get a customer to some of the massage parlors, he gets about a 1000 baht commission. Add in 5 suckers a month, that's 17,500 baht total (5,000 above the 12,500 in #3)
5. Tourist traps stores: Get some farang to any of the tourist trap stores and our poor poor taxi driver will get a commission. No, he doesn't get "gas tickets". He gets hard cash. Many places will give him 200 baht per farang, no matter whether the farang buys anything or not. Jewelry stores, tailors,… Trust me, they know the list. You can bet your ass on it, those who play that game will cash in another 1,000 per week, at least. 21,500 baht per month so far, in case you have troubles following the maths.
6. Of meter fares "for you, only 300" type. Aside of the fact it's illegal, those who try are nearly guaranteed to find a few fresh suckers at the airport or outside Patpong. In that case, my guess is you add in another 5,000 to 10,000 a month.
7. I am not a cabby which means I am sure I must be missing quite a few tricks of the trade, so there are probably a couple more income sources I haven't figured out.
8. How about this: When you are cabby, you work when you want, you don't have a boss breathing down your neck, you can go where you want…
9. Holidays on the coast, on expenses (just get a customer going to Pattaya, Hua Hin…)

What does that bring us to?

– Inexperienced / dumb driver who rents his cab: +/- 6,000 baht per month
– Honest, experienced taxi driver who rents his cab: +/- 12,500 baht/month
– Honest, experienced taxi driver who owns his cab: +/- 27,500 baht/month
– Borderline cabby with flexible morals who rents his cab: +/- 20,000 baht/month
– Borderline cabby with flexible morals who owns his cab: +/- 35,000 baht/month
– Criminal **** who owns his car: 50,000++ baht/month

Are you starting to understand why there are so many cabs in Bangkok?

Yup. poor taxi drivers. Fares are so cheap, and what with the price of oil that's climbing out the f***ing roof, long hours for a pittance, not to mention 'em bloody traffic jams. Poor guys. Amen

Stickman's thoughts:

Let's go through and look at some of what you have said more closely.

I have NEVER heard of taxi drivers paying 800 baht for a taxi for a 12 hour shift. 420 – 550 baht would appear to be the range.

I would dispute the amounts of money you suggest some drivers make. I seriously doubt such money is being made, or if it is, it is by a negligible percentage of the total drivers.

Taxi drivers GENERALLY come from one of two groups – they are either born and bred in Bangkok (my guess would be that this group would make up less than 15% of taxi drivers) or they come from one of the poorer parts of the country, predominantly, but not exclusively, Isaan.

They come to Bangkok searching for work because it is difficult to get decent paying work in the provinces and coming from poor backgrounds and they often have a family to feed. Remember, the minimum age to be a taxi driver is 25 years old.

I almost always chat with the cab drivers and they are happy to tell you what they earn. Some days they may make close to 1,000 baht – this is their total profit after all expenses have been paid, but that would be unusual – maybe just a few times a year. 700+ baht is generally considered a very, very good day and 500 baht tends to be what they aim for. They do not get 500 baht that often.

They pay 420 – 550 baht to hire the car for their 12 hour shift. They have to have the car cleaned and back within the 12 hours. The cleaning which is very quick is 20 baht. Gas for a typical shift is about 220 – 240 baht. So, we have approx 500 + 230 + 20 = 750 baht. Everything over and above that is profit. If they got the 1,200 baht figure you mentioned, they would make 450 baht a day. This is obviously a lot more than the average wage, but it is NOT great money. That is 12 hours driving in the hell of Bangkok traffic. I get stressed out after about 40 minutes driving in Bangkok so how do these guys feel after a 12 hour shift?

These guys have very little control over their earnings and at this time of year, the middle of the rainy season, they are awfully vulnerable to the elements. If the traffic locks up, and in Bangkok it often does, they can get caught for long periods of time without a customer. One of my friends got caught in a traffic jam and the car did not move for 4 hours. If that was a cabby, he would have been screwed. He would have in all likelihood not only missed out on making money for the day, but possibly have been in debt for his 12 hour shift! That is the stark reality that these guys face!

Yes, there is opportunity to make extra money through often unscrupulous and deceptive means, but in my experience, the drivers doing this are in the minority.

Of course Bangkok's cabbies are far from a perfect bunch, their driving is aggressive, generally way too fast and without due care. But when you tell them to slow down or be more careful – in Thai of course – they always follow your instructions.

Let me sum it up like this. I seldom tip – and I only tip when I feel that someone has been more pleasant than necessary, enhanced the experience or exceeded my expectations. I almost always tip the taxi drivers. Almost always. To me, they are a bunch of guys who do a lousy job generally fairly well. I'm fortunate in that as a Thai speaker I have no problems with them except for their erratic driving.