The tail of taxi drivers
The new media voice in the Goan space has ended up taking on our “taxi gangs”, as it labels them. It’s probably far easier to lash out against our drivers, rather than take on the government of the day, or even a mining sector buoyed up by communist Chinese incessantly servicing the markets of global capitalism. Boundless are the ironies of today.
At first glance, it does seem like this is true. Who hasn’t had a bad experience when hiring wheels to traverse Goa? Overcharging is a common fault. Goa’s taxis are mostly costly, and their drivers are often rough and rude.
But, take a closer look. This, in fact, is only the symptom of a wider malaise. Goa’s taxis are but one small part of the wider, public transportation crisis that Goa has been facing since anyone alive remembers. Probably most journalists don’t travel by bus any more to raise such issues consistently, but do so when we need a platform to show we’re on the side of the people.
For far too long, transportation in Goa has been ruled by a laissez faire approach. But it’s worse than that. Each sector — bus owners, Kadamba staff, politicians owning vehicles, taxi entrepreneurs, and hoteliers who want to control this sector — have been seen as vote-banks or lobbies to be pandered to.
We have a situation of too many taxis chasing too few passengers. At the end of the day, passengers end up getting overcharged, and the drivers hardly make ends meet. This is a situation which helps nobody.
Our politicians and administrators have abdicated their role to build an efficient sector. Even technology is hardly being made use of to find some solution.
Some time back, during a visit to Penang, one had the opportunity to see how efficiently the taxi service in that tourist-destination island were organised. And it doesn’t take for much. A Tamil-origin driver explained their use of a walkie-talkie system and a taxi-pool to ensure the nearest taxi could quickly pick up a passenger, offer a better price, and ensure they all kept more busy during their work-day.
They didn’t have to burn litres of petrol scouring the streets for their next customer. Can’t Goa explore such options?
But taxis alone are not the solution. Inefficient public transport only worsens the system. The ride back from Dabolim airport is so costly because this must be one of the few airports in the country, or the world, which doesn’t have an efficient bus service connecting directly to it. This is inexcusable, more so in the case of a much-touted tourist destination.
Politicians want us to believe they’re creating wealth out of nowhere, whether by way of government jobs or hand-outs. In the past, they have doled out permits or loans to literally thousands of unemployed youth. Finally, it dawned on many of these youth that they were sitting on dead investments. What’s good a taxi if you can’t get even two customers in a day? Some years back, hundreds of all-white tourist-taxis blockaded state-capital Panjim in protest. Instead of a solution, some plainclothes policemen were seen going round smashing their windowpanes in retributory violence!
This is a subaltern section of Goan society, which has been left out of the benefits of “development”, in an unemployment-filled Goa that has the highest per capita income nationwide! Unproductive government jobs are available to the select few, and those with the political godfathers. Others must make do with any opportunity. Agreed, entrepreneurial thinking is something lacking. But for that we cannot blame the taxi “gangs” alone.
A neighbour in my village in Bardez invested in a tractor rather than a taxi, after returning from a stint in the Gulf. He works incredibly hard, and makes a good living. His hard work has attracted others into the field; but there are limits on growth. Then, when it comes to accessing information from, say, Tamil Nadu, about other agricultural machinery available, he still has a hard time. Who’s to blame for a State which claims so many achievements but doesn’t build up its own people to cope with changing times?
True, our taxis are overpriced, inefficient and un-viable for their owners. This is a sign of the selfishness of our society, the dominance of lobbies, and the fact that five decades after we don’t have colonialism to blame, we are yet to work to find solutions that our society needs.
At least one blogger saw blaming taxi drivers as an elitist attempt to suppress the small voices in Goa. Don’t they too deserve a share of the so-called tourism pie?
As the situation stands, neither the passenger nor the taxi-driver or owner benefits. There is inefficiency all round, and all sections are paying the price for it. Goa’s scattered geography makes taxi operations un-viable; can someone find a solution? Issues of too many taxis chasing too few passengers need to be tackled as well. Otherwise we could just end up blaming the victim.