The taxi community and the Goa government have been in a cold war of sorts, for a while now. While the latter has tried to come up with different initiatives and policies to reform the structure of the taxi sector in the interest of tourism, the former believe that all of these policies are unfair and are targeted at bringing financial difficulties upon them.
The latest in the long list of issues that have been a bone of contention between the two parties is that of installation of digital meters on all taxis within the stipulated times, that is October 21st, failing which the owners will lose their permits. Despite measures such as reimbursement of the Rs. 11,000-odd installation charges, the directive has not gone down well with the cabbies.
A recent article by Incredible Goa had highlighted their woes with the new order and reasons for their displeasure. The most salient among those was the fact that the taxi drivers have had a very rough year in terms of business. Owing to a slowdown in domestic and international tourism due to lockdowns, their business has taken a hard beating.
They complained that while other states had done plenty to support their cabbies, it wasn’t the same with Goa. Left to fend for themselves with neither alternative employment nor compensation or financial support from the state, they are now struggling to meet the day-to-day expenses such as food for their families and education for their kids.
In several households, they are the sole breadwinners and are pulling out all stops to make something work. Damodar, a taxi driver from Vasco says that he, like many of his peers, are now taking up the job of Swiggy delivery boys in order to cover their bare necessities. “It pays us as low as Rs. 20 per trip. We have to use our own vehicle and fuel, travel long distances irrespective of the weather to earn a measly Rs. 400-500 a day,” he said.
Damodar himself has 3 cars that he can run as taxis “but business is dead,” he says, adding that they wait at the stands all day and have not a single customer. This is what has pushed him to do food deliveries. The more cars he owns are now becoming a greater liability to him.
The second area where they are suffering is in terms of their bank loans and repayment of the EMIs. Many taxi drivers have cars purchased under loans and despite being more than halfway through repayment is being threatened to pay up or give up their vehicles. In such a crisis, they feel neglected by the government. “They have done nothing for us since last March, and now expect us to obey their orders like this,” said another.
Among their biggest grievances is the hypocrisy of the tourists in the interest of whom these orders are being passed. “They don’t mind paying Rs. 5,000 for a small room with hardly any amenities during the peak tourist season in November-December, the same one which they would easily get for Rs. 1,500 during the off-season. They don’t mind paying a higher price for the cabs arranged for them by the big resorts down South but they have issues only while paying us local taxi drivers our due…”
Further, some have raised questions on the Government-approved taxi services at the airports which charge a significantly higher price than what is reasonable as per the current state fare per kilometer. “Why is a government-commissioned outlet being allowed to overcharge but it is considered thieving and robbery when a local taxi man asks for just a little more?” they ask.
This too, they say, is something they have had to resort to due to the government’s negligence towards their issues. The last time the taxi fare gazette was updated was in 2014. The rates were fixed at Rs. 35/km and that is the price they have been expected to drive at despite the gap of 7 long years. During this time, the petrol prices have gone up from Rs. 52.53/liter to now, Rs. 96.87/liter; a jump of approximately 45%.
Even with the new rule for digital meters, there is a lack of clarity on several matters. For instance, what the fares will be like, whether the state will organize servicing centers wearing faulty meters will be promptly fixed for the drivers so that they don’t lose out on valuable trip-time, and so on.
Another taxi driver pointed out that sometimes customers book out-station trips with them, “We do not go by the meter in these cases because then the customer will end up paying a massive sum, therefore, we usually come to a consensus which is affordable to them. What do we do in these special cases after the meters are fixed?” Such doubts are adding to the reluctance on the part of the drivers.
“It is a good rule and we would not have opposed (it), had it been planned to take us into consideration. The authorities lack sympathy and humanity,” said another, while adding that this is not the way democracy should work. “Providing free installation for now, with an EMI-system of repayment would have been much better for us,” he said.
This is not the only controversy surrounding the taxi community and the state authorities. Since December last year, there has been much uproar about the “Taxi Mafia” beating up cabbies registered under the Taxi Aggregator GoaMiles in April this year, they even went on strike demanding the withdrawal of the app. Goa Miles is the official taxi app service in the state of Goa.
“As the incidents of beating up the taxi drivers of Goa Miles service by the local taxi service drivers are still going on, it would indirectly impact the State tourism industry… if there is any issue, the local taxi owners should discuss it with us and find a solution,” appealed Parashar Pai Khot, director (Operation) at GoaMiles addressing a press conference on the issue.
In the past, such violent outbursts have been reported between the local taxi drivers and drivers from app-based services. Apps such as Ola and Uber had entered the Goan picture but their time here was very short-lived owing to harsh opposition from the local drivers.
The absence of a proper system and more convenient app-based taxi services in a tourist hub such as Goa has been an eyesore to many tourists, as well as locals in the state. There have been many cases of even locals preferring the crowded city bus or private transportation because the taxi drivers often tend to overcharge. Appeals for better systems have been on since 2017.
When asked about this, the local taxi drivers admit that there have been a few instances of swindling in the past, but that should not be generalized to mean that all taxi drivers in the state are cheaters or thieves. Likewise, admitting that on a few occasions, people from their community have not appealed for a change in the most civil manner but that should be no reason to ill-treat or avenge the entire community in this way. “Please listen to the frustrated man and see where he is coming from before taking action against him,” said a cabbie.
At the end of this controversy, there is very little clarity on which side has more merit and moral high ground. The only thing we can ascertain is that both parties have diametrically opposite views. Moreover, dialogue and negotiation have never been their way of resolution, at least, not in practice. Add to this, the third angle of what the people of Goa and tourists want.
On the whole, it is a rather convoluted issue. We stand at the brink of what looks like a revival in tourism post the pandemic, and a smooth-functioning tourism sector is Goa’s only shot at reviving its economy and securing employment for its distressed youth. Therefore, it is important now, more than ever before to resolve the crisis in a timely and fair manner.