Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thailand musings: Taxi mismatch

I was flying from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on New Years Eve.  Thanks to some flight delays, I found myself in Don Mueang airport in Bangkok less than 2 hours before the ball dropped.  This is not a good time to be in an airport.  The line for taxis was unbelievably long, with only one taxi arriving every couple minutes or so.

These were the official cabs with standardized metering.  Under normal circumstances, you'd want to be sure to take one.  But New Years Eve is not normal circumstances.  Drivers had no way of adjusting their prices, and evidently didn't want to work the holiday for normal prices.  But however much they didn't want to work, I guarantee you that Western tourists were willing to pay a lot more to not spend 6 hours of New Years Eve/Day in an airport.

There is just no comparison here.  $30 for an airport cab ride is nothing to a Westerner even under normal circumstances, but a lot to a Thai driver even under special circumstances.  $30 goes a long way in a country where you can get a solid meal for $1-2.

Fortunately for me, there was another option: I just hopped in an unofficial cab and was home for $30 in time for the fireworks.  By comparison, a metered cab probably would have cost me $5.

That's great for me, but it doesn't resolve the widespread inefficiency described above.  For whatever reason, there were hundreds of people standing in an unmoving line for cabs that wouldn't come because their prices couldn't adjust.

Why didn't other travelers just do what I did?  I suspect they were just unaware of the option.  Possibly this is an example of herding behavior gone terribly wrong.  Maybe the longer the line becomes, the more you think that what you're supposed to do is stand in line too, instead of looking around for an alternative.

What a terrible recipe.  The more people do it, the worse idea it becomes, and the better idea it seems.

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