Visitors landing at Phnom Penh International Airport may soon have a new choice to make: To take a taxi or tuk-tuk?
Currently, the choice is an easier one, between taxis, which charge $7 to the city center, or motorbike taxis that cost a lot less.
But if taxi drivers have their way, the status quo will remain. And that is why more than 80 airport taxi drivers protested at Phnom Penh City Hall on Monday to prevent tuk-tuks from getting access to airport passengers whom they charge a competitive $5 to take to the city center.
“If there are tuk-tuks, how can the taxis survive?” asked Phav Sothon, president of an airport cab drivers association.
Phav Sothon said his members pay $3,280 a month—or $40 each—to Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, the French company that manages the airport, for the exclusive rights to pick up passengers at the arrival terminal.
But the 31 airport motorbike taxi drivers, who pay $341 a month—or $11 each—for the same rights, say they need to earn more money and applied last year to Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema seeking permission to upgrade their motos to tuk-tuks.
In a March 6, 2007 letter, Kep Chuktema appeared to agree with the upgrade, but added that the drivers should contact the municipal public works department to work out the details.
In a Jan 8 letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol wrote that he thought a tuk-tuk service at the airport was a good idea—relatively speaking.
“[T]uk-tuks are safer than motor taxis,” Sun Chanthol wrote.
Nevertheless, in a Jan 31 letter to Hun Sen, Kep Chuktema noted a word of caution: “If they convert [to tuk-tuks], there will be disputes in vying for clients between taxi and tuk-tuk groups, that could affect security and order inside the airport.”
Luos Seiha, president of the airport’s motorbike taxi association, said his members have already borrowed money from banks and sold their land to get together the $1,500 needed to convert a motorbike taxi to a three-wheeled tuk-tuk.
He also vowed that his members would go ahead and take their new tuk-tuk service to the airport anyway, starting March 1.
“It is a bias that the municipality cares only about taxis but not us,” Luos Seiha said, adding: “Our tuk-tuks will not harm the taxi business. Clients will choose [themselves].”
Khek Norinda, communications manager for SCA, said SCA embraces all forms of transportation at the airport and is open to discussion on how to resolve the issue.
“We have proposed several solutions to the taxi association, such as: lower[ing] the operating fee should the taxis experience adverse impact due to the presence of tuk-tuk[s],” he wrote in an e-mail.
Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday.
Municipal Deputy Governor Chreang Sophan said the taxi-versus-tuk-tuk issue was being actively debated at City Hall.
“Our stance is not so clear yet,” he said.