Authorities crack down on unlicensed tourist taxis
THE government is using mobile teams to check that cars carrying tourists in southern Shan State have the proper tourism ministry paperwork, as part of a pilot program that will be extended to other state and regions, according to the tourism ministry.
The teams are made up of traffic police, tourist police and officials from the transport and tourism ministries. Operations began on November 1 and teams are checking that tour companies, guides and vehicles – including Inle Lake boats – all have the correct licences.
The main focus, however, is on cars.
“The tourists have to take registered vehicles,” U Myint Htwe, director of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, told The Myanmar Times. “Only registered vehicles have the right facilities and are safe for tourists. The program is being implemented for tourist safety.”
He added that the ministry is planning to make tourists aware that they should be taking registered cars, and will expand the program to other states and regions soon.
“Tourists will not be annoyed with this policy after becoming familiar with it,” U Myint Htwe said. “Everyone has to obey the laws.”
U Zaw Htay Aung, a consultant for southern Shan State’s Tourist Vehicle Association, which is taking part in the mobile team operations, said the teams would overlook locals driving foreign acquaintances.
“We’ll overlook it once if the driver is taking foreign friends,” he said, but added that teams would take a note of the registration number in such cases. “If it happens again and again we won’t let it go. In those cases we’ll check the foreigners’ passports and if they are on tourist visas we’ll take action against the driver.”
U Zaw Htay Aung said the government was concerned about the spread of vehicles without a standard licence in Shan State, and was concerned about such vehicles entering the tourism industry.
According to the 1993 Tourism Law, only vehicles with a special “blue license” – issued by the tourism ministry – can carry tourists.
“The former government didn’t take that regulation seriously, but we are supervising [the tourism sector] to make sure the law is followed,” U Zaw Htay Aung said.
The Ministry of Tourism released a directive aimed at tour firms and owners of vehicles carrying tourists earlier this year, instructing them to register for the correct licenses during an “awareness period” between August and October.
But the local tourism industry is not welcoming the new policy. One travel agent in Taunggyi, who asked to remain anonymous, said foreign tourists were not happy at being stopped.
Mobile teams that have discovered drivers without the correct licences have forced tourist to change cars, the travel agent said.
U Zaw Htay Aung said this was done to keep tourists safe.
“We found about four vehicles without the proper licence and at that time we changed the car for them, explaining that the driver doesn’t have the right licence,” he said.
“We are very upset with the system because we are not smugglers,” the travel agent said, adding the licensing requirements are too onerous.
The tourism ministry requires vehicle owners to have a driving licence and a taxi licence from the transport ministry before applying for the blue licence allowing them to carry tourists.
“We can’t apply for the blue licence without a recommendation from southern Shan State tourist vehicle association,” she said. “The process is too confused and not easy for us. It will take at least two weeks to get the blue licence and we can be still stopped and checked if we didn’t display the stickers on the car.”
There are also industry complaints about licensing costs.
A two -year blue licence costs K60,000, while the combined driver and taxi licence – depending on the vehicle – can cost K100,000. to K180,000, she said.
Birds fly over Inle Lake.