Au­thor­i­ties crack down on un­li­censed tourist taxis

The Myanmar Times - - Business - EI EI THU eiei­thu@mm­times.com

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.

Photo: EPA

Birds fly over Inle Lake.

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