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Gangs monopolize taxis at hotels; anger ordinary taxis

Date Posted: 2004-12-09

The law says every taxi has an equal opportunity to pick up fares at any location, including Okinawa hotels.

Tourism officials and many taxi drivers say this isn’t the case, charging that gangsters have a firm grip on a racket that allows only select taxis to wait in front of hotels and tourist locations. They charge that some taxi drivers pay the gangs a special membership fee for the privilege of having a prime location at hotels.

“This makes for a bad image for Okinawa’s tourism business,” said one tourist official asking for government intervention. “Please take action.” The law changed 10 years ago, giving all taxi companies equal access. Now, Prefecture Police investigators say the Gyokuryu-Kai Shimabukuro Family and the third generation Maruhiro family are making money charging territorial fees from taxi drivers.

Taxi drivers are charged ¥10,000~15,000 to park in front of major city and resort hotels, at the front doors. They’re called “members” and say only “members” are allowed the privilege.

Hotel managers expressed surprise. “Is that true? We’ve never noticed.” And “We’ve heard this for the first time.”

“We just knew that very special taxi drivers were waiting in front of our taxi stand, but never got complaints from taxi drivers or customers at all, and we don’t do any special treatment for taxi drivers. Nothing at all.”

One of the taxi drivers, who’s been in the driver seat for nine years, says that’s not true. “Not only us drivers, but hotels know there are special “members” for waiting, and others who cannot wait. If the taxi drivers are not “members” they can’t stay. I’m not a member, so I can’t wait at the front side.” Another driver said “actually, these taxi drivers called “members” are taking customers to bars, clubs, soaps and other places where girls are waiting. These taxi drivers get commissions from the bars and clubs.” Another noted that the clubs, bars and soaps are often owned by gangster groups. “That’s why the gangs have asked taxi drivers to pay the waiting fee, calling it a territory fee.”

Okinawa’s Convention Bureau director says “This is not good. Okinawa’s name and image are going down, and safety and comfort may be harmed. Prefecture Police must watch this very strictly.”

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