Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vietnam Taxicab Confessions

On a good day, riding in the back of a taxi gives me a chance to practice my Vietnamese.  I am all about the benjamins, so I usually end up asking them about the economics of driving a cab.

A summary of what I've learned:
  • cabbies pay for their gas usage (we'll get back to this in a moment)
  • damage to the cab is paid out of pocket, unless the driver can prove the other vehicle is at fault - then the taxi company's insurance will pay
  • for Mai Linh, one of the bigger operators, the 7-pax (i.e. the Toyota Innova) are driven solely by those with 1 or more years experience with the company - so the small the smaller the cab, the less experienced the driver
  • drivers get 12-hour shifts, and can stake out their own territory
  • like most jobs here, it's a 6-day a week gig
  • pay is a % of the shift take, depending on the taxi company - it is roughly 45% of the till, but some companies institute a sliding scale, from low 40s to low 50s depending on the total per shift, while others require a minimum take per shift
  • I've heard minimums ranging from 250k VND to 400k VND per shift
  • I guess if you don't make the minimum, they fire you
  • pretty much all the cabs have sensors in them to recognize an empty backseat - so you can't just jump into a cab when the previous fare exits.  You have to close the door, have the sensors recognize it is empty, and then open up and get it.  Not a big deal until one is hailing a cab in a torrential downpour
  • more than 90+% of the cabs have accurate meters; one is more likely to find the 5% of drivers who do not know directions than the small percentage with rigged meters
Recently, in Danang, I grabbed a taxi heading from the resort to the airport.  For a tourist city, it's surprisingly an interminable wait for cabs there.  I was on the phone while trying to load up the luggage, and some dude in French-inflected English walked out of the resort trying to take my cab.

"It's my cab." (back on the phone)
"I called for a cab."
"I called for it first." (close the door and I'm off)

It was funny as heck, moreso because this dude probably gets waited on hand-and-foot throughout his stay in Vietnam.  He seemed flabbergasted that I wouldn't defer to his arse.  Hey, if you were nicer I would've split the airport ride wit' ya.  Whaddaya expect from a New Yorker in Danang?  I ain't giving up my cab, dude.

Back to the gas situation.  With the recent cut in gas subsidies to fight inflation, gas prices have gone up roughly by 1/3rd.  Fares now have gone up by 2k VND per km, so yesterday I ended up paying about 25% more than usual for a 10km roundtrip. 

Some taxi companies haven't instituted price increases as of yet.  Drivers at two taxi companies in the north, Hanoi Taxi and Saigon Star Taxi, within the past week, have gone on strike to protest the lack of fare increases.

I'll probably end up walking a bit more than usual now, which is all together a good thing.      

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