The trials and tribulations of taxiing it around Kuala Lumpur

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(eTN) – Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a world-class city, or so the Ministry of Tourism (and many other ministries) wants us to believe.

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(eTN) – Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a world-class city, or so the Ministry of Tourism (and many other ministries) wants us to believe. Yes, the city has a first-class airport and an excellent bullet train that takes care of the 80-kilometer ride in less than 30 minutes. Yes, it had the tallest building around for many years. Yes, it has a thriving food scene fueled by its multicultural ethnic mix of Indian, Malay, and Chinese.

What KL (as the acronym goes) doesn’t have, is a decent public transport system and is home to an under-regulated taxi system.

Allow me to explain. The public transport system is cheap and economical (good side) but overcrowded and under extended (bad side). There are so few points in the more upscale suburbs that have public transport stations that it makes it virtually impossible for a guy like me to even consider using it. When asking my Malaysian friends, why does the LRT not come to say, Mount Kiara (an upscale neighborhood), they reply oh, because everyone has a car and no one needs it. Well my friend, it is precisely that mentality that creates pollution and urban chaos.

As an experienced traveler and ardent support of the MRT in Singapore, or the RATP in Paris or even Hong Kong, I’m appalled that I cannot rely on the LRT in KL.

I even tried driving here for a month and after knocking down a motorist and having an average of 5 near misses on a daily basis, I realized I had better turn the car in before I was turned in to the local Polis.

Last resort: enter the ubiquitous taxi. Well in all fairness, when I first arrived in KL a few years back, I found them to be, let’s say, quaint and full of character and characters. That was my nice romantic side coming out, but then I was living in the KLCC (downtown area) and didn’t really need them except to go to the airport and yes, I had a few drivers I could trust.

The romanticism soon wore off when I had to rely on them to get around from my suburban oasis.

Frequenting them on a daily basis made me bitter, angry, depressed, and supremely anti-Malaysian, negative emotions that I didn’t enjoy harboring.

Taxi Story 1: Enter Danesh, a charming Indian driver who never wore his seatbelt, but invited me to his home for Deepavali and then asked to borrow 3,000 ringgits and when confronted by a Masali (slang for foreigner) who wouldn’t cough up, proceeded to insult him. He was quickly crossed off the list.

Taxi Story 2: Many of the old Chinese drivers, driving around in their beat-up protons with no air-conditioning and alternating between brake and accelerator as if it was one pedal, provoke an end result of either having to jump out before the destination or arriving ready to puke in the first toilet (sorry for being so graphic).

Taxi Story 3: Pertains to all the greasy, sleazy drivers, standing outside KLCC (PETRONAS Towers area) and every other downtown hotel looking for an unsuspecting tourist to fleece, yes fleece. Quite literally meaning, take for a ride. Generally their meters are always conveniently not working.

Taxi Story 4: I pity the poor tourist who arrives at the Low Cost Terminal at 1:00 am and is obliged to buy a taxi coupon and drive to any address, other than a downtown hotel (and even some downtown hotels), because these guys just don’t know where they are going and will generally stop for petrol on the way and not turn off the meter. This happened to me a few times in the beginning of my Malaysian stay. Not anymore, as I found out that the only way to deal with them is to be tough, make sure they know who’s paying the bill, and jump out after the first few meters if you are not comfortable. God only knows how many times I have jumped out of a moving taxi!

Taxi Story 5: Book a taxi from someone you believe is reputable and if that person feels your ride is not worth it, he will send his replacement, who does not even know where the 5-star Pullman hotel in Putrajaya is – this happened to me today.

Last month there was an article in a local paper here with a headline reading “KL cabbies living up to ‘worst taxi drivers in the world.’”

On, a visitor posted: “I have traveled the world, and from Bombay to Boston I can tell you the taxi drivers in KL are the biggest pack of thieving, lying dirt bags you will ever come across.”

Wow, that’s pretty strong stuff. Can’t say I disagree with it.

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About the author


Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.