Airport Suspends Taxis After Clash With Tuk-Tuks

Taxi drivers have been suspended from operating at the Phnom Penh International Airport following a clash with tuk-tuk drivers Monday morning, according to a representative of the company that manages the airport.

The two groups have been in negotiations with the municipality over the last year about when and whether tuk-tuk drivers can begin providing service to airport customers, something that the airport taxi drivers’ association has opposed.

Luos Seiha, the president of the airport tuk-tuk drivers’ association, said tuk-tuk drivers began offering their services at the airport Monday morning because they could no longer wait for official approval.

“I could not be patient any longer so we started our business,” he said.

Deputy municipal police chief Hy Prou said that on Monday morning taxi and tuk-tuk drivers began arguing over customers and that one tuk-tuk driver was briefly detained after disrupting business. In one instance, taxi drivers stopped a tuk-tuk from leaving with two foreign tourists, he said.

Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, the company that operates the airport, decided after Monday’s events to allow only buses to transport visitors from the airport, said SCA communications and marketing manager Khek Norinda.

“It’s a way to calm things down and get people to talking to each other,” he said. Airport officials gave both parties a letter stating that services would be suspended until the two groups could reach an agreement allowing the drivers “to operate in good conditions,” Khek Norinda later wrote by e-mail.

Phav Sothon, president of airport taxi driver’s association, said he did not understand why taxis have been suspended, adding that taxi drivers will ignore SCA’s decision.

“Taxis are legal at the airport,” he said, and faulted tuk-tuk drivers for operating without an agreement.

Luos Seiha said that members of his association had converted from motorbikes to tuk-tuks in the last month, a year after they requested that they be allowed to change.

Municipal officials have written letters supporting the idea of allowing tuk-tuks to service the airport, but no official agreement has been reached.

Luos Seiha said that the tuk-tuk drivers hoped to begin operating at the airport March 1, but that had been delayed until a March 6 meeting, which did not produce an agreement. A second meeting scheduled for last Friday was canceled, prompting Monday’s situation, he said.

On Monday, taxi drivers began telling customers that the tuk-tuks were illegal, Luos Seiha said.

“They’re afraid we’ll take their clients,” he said.

Khek Norinda said that there is room for both groups at the airport and that visitors should be able to decide for themselves. Airport passenger volume increased 21 percent in 2007 and business continues to grow, he said.

“All the parties have to sit and talk to each other,” he said.

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