To add some peace of mind for customers during a third wave of COVID-19 in Thailand, a private Bangkok cab company is using signs to show which drivers are vaccinated, as efforts to broaden immunizations pick up pace.
Smart Taxi is letting drivers that have been fully vaccinated to change their roof display, which used to say “available,” to a bright green LED sign with the words “vaccine” and “COVID” next to a checkmark in three different languages—English, Thai and Chinese.
“But they can’t just change the display willy nilly,” said Piset Tinakorn Na Ayutthaya, the Managing Director of Smart Taxi. “Every driver must come to the headquarters and provide us with paperwork ensuring that they’ve been fully vaccinated. Drivers who have only received one shot will not be allowed to do this.”
The plan is new, and meant to coincide with increased vaccination campaigns in the country. So far, only a handful of drivers have been able to change their signs since shots for transportation workers only started this week. But Piset hopes it catches on in more ways than one.
He wants the signs to bring more customers to taxi drivers, whose livelihoods have suffered during a pandemic in which Thailand lost tens of millions of tourists. He also believes the signs will double as a public health message.
“It’s very important for taxi drivers to get vaccinated because the transportation system can really help drive the economy in the capital,” Piset said.
Smart Taxi launched three years ago as part of the Department of Land Transport’s “Taxi OK” program aimed to enhance safety and quality of service for riders. They have their own ride-hailing application that operates about 5,000 taxis.
While other taxi services have yet to announce similar plans, Southeast Asia ride-hailing giant Grab launched a program aimed at increasing vaccination access for their drivers in February. The company also provides a subsidy of 500 Thai baht (about $16) for COVID-19 testing fees as well as compensation and income protection insurance for those diagnosed. Their goal is for all Grab employees to be fully vaccinated by the end of 2022.
After months of successfully controlling the pandemic, Thailand started battling its third and most severe wave of COVID-19 in April. As of Thursday, the number of total infections reached 141,217 with 920 deaths.
With one of the lowest vaccination rates in Southeast Asia, Thailand has faced criticism for lagging behind its regional neighbors, and some residents have flown across the world to get the jabs.
But a national vaccination campaign is set to begin next month. On Thursday, Bangkok opened vaccine registration for those aged between 18 and 59.
Residents can book their appointment at convenient stores, online or via the “Pao Tang” application. Before, vaccines were prioritized for people with underlying conditions, hospitality workers, senior citizens, and those living in areas with high infection rates.