poipet commune, O’Chrou District, Banteay Meanchey Province – A new rule in Poipet has taxi drivers scrambling to make ends meet.
Under the rule, instituted two months ago and approved by the Ministry of Tourism, most taxi drivers are forbidden to drive foreigners out of the province—though they are still permitted to bring foreigners in.
Only a small number of taxis that have been approved by Poipet’s Office of the Commission of Management of Mini Tour Bus Operations may ferry foreigners out of the province, at prices that other taxi drivers said are nearly double what they would charge in some cases.
Those who violate the rule and attempt to take foreigners out of Poipet face fines and confiscation of their cars for one or two days.
In this border commune, where they pack their cars with six passengers in order to turn a profit—or simply to earn enough to buy fuel—some taxi drivers say the rule is putting them out of business.
“I am very fed up with the rule, and they are very strict with taxi drivers for taking foreigners,” said taxi driver Van Na, who was stopped by police and warned for unwittingly picking up a foreigner.
“If this rule continues, it will hurt taxi drivers,” he said. “I need to go back with some passengers even if it is not enough to pay for gasoline.”
According to Youk Doung, chief of the tour bus management commission, the rule on who can transport foreigners was instituted for security reasons. By taking only approved taxis, he said, foreigners avoid the risk of being dropped at places other than their intended destination.
When foreigners come through the commission office, they are checked against “the foreigner blacklist,” to guard against terrorists and other outlaws, he said.
“In the past we have had problems,” he added.
Youk Doung said that for foreigners, a ticket with an “approved” taxi from Poipet to Banteay Meanchey provincial capital Serei Saophoan costs $4. The cost to Siem Reap is $10, and to Phnom Penh $15.
On a recent morning, about 25 approved taxis could be seen in the commission’s parking lot.
“We charge more money than the price of a simple taxi, because we provide more services,” Youk Doung said.
Those extras, he said, include picking up travelers from the border crossing and driving them to the commission office a few meters away, and allowing just four passengers per car.
Ordinary taxi drivers said they could provide the same service at far lower prices: $2.50 to Serei Saophoan, $6 to Siem Reap and $12.50 to Phnom Penh.
Thong Khon, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism, said that if regular taxi drivers want to drive foreigners out of Poipet, they can register for free at the minibus commission.
He said that after they are approved, their turn to drive foreigners will come within three or four days.
But on Friday morning, taxi driver Ly Yim said that the new rule had gouged his ability to make money.
Ly Yim, 25, had brought a car full of people to Poipet the day before, but he netted no profit after spending what he had on a guest house when he found no one to take back to Serei Saophoan on Thursday night.
“Before, I could make $15, $20 a day,” he said, taking a long drag from a cigarette while he waited for his tires to be filled with air. “Now I can’t even make [$4.70].”
“When I see foreigners, I dare not take them in my taxi,” he said. “It makes it difficult for drivers who need foreigners to make money. Most of the time, we can’t.”