KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (eTN) – Tunku Iskandar, past chairman of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and former president of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents, is not a man to mince his words – nor hide from the truth.

It must have given him some sleepless nights while attending the recent PATA biannual meeting and travel mart in Hyderabad, thinking how he can help to fix problems at home that hounds him whenever he goes to attend a tourism event, and often becomes a subject of discussions at the sidelines.

While in Hyderabad, he ran smack into delegates who question why the Malaysian government has allowed “rogue taxis drivers,” who charge passengers according to their “whims and fancies” instead of by the mile and hour to become a “law unto themselves.”

A travel news report has claimed, in a survey by Kuala Lumpur-based Expat Magazine, taxis are rated “the worst” for “quality, courtesy, availability and ride experiences” in a sampling of 200 foreigners from 30 countries.

“The drivers are road bullies and extortionists, a national shame and pose a serious threat to the country’s tourism industry,” the survey found.

In the same week, Adri Ghani, a Malaysian currently residing in Saudi Arabia wrote to a Malaysian newspaper, venting his own anger at the state of Malaysian taxis which has given his country a bad reputation, claiming it has been described in an article in Saudi Arabia as the “world’s worst cabs in a tropical paradise. They have given Malaysia a bad image.”

The newspaper article goes further to explain, “Malaysia is wonderful, but its taxi touts and unchecked drivers come as an unpleasant surprise to tourists.”

In addition to the shabby service, unkempt and hostile drivers, taxi drivers refuse to use meters insisting instead on quoting an exorbitant flat rate.

The writer further says that Malaysian taxis are ranked worse than Indonesian and Thai taxis, pointing out neighbor Singapore, as well as Hong Kong as examples where the taxis have a good image.

“The first contact a tourist gets with locals is often during airport transits to hotels and it creates a very, very strong first impressions, either good or bad,” said John Koldowski, managing director of PATA. “Authorities need to do their jobs and act upon any complaints strongly, quickly and visibly. Taxi drivers have an outsize impact on a nation’s image.”

Those in the know about the workings of the Malaysian government puts the whole blame on the government’s current “rental” and monopoly system for awarding taxi permits and routes. “Their rules are a century old, and the authorities sleeping.”

Sensing defeat in his openness following his own admission he has not been “hassled or cheated” by taxi drivers who ferried him in Hyderabad, Tunku Iskandar could only say, “What a sad state of affairs. Why can’t the Malaysian authorities take stern action?”

“Malaysian taxi drivers have managed to damage all the money dumped to promote Malaysian tourism,” commented a delegate.