Herald: Tourism taken for massive taxi ride

Tourism taken for massive taxi ride

05 Mar 2017 01:58am IST
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05 Mar 2017 01:58am IST

Vibha Verma takes a bumpy ride to find out why even 14 months after a notification to install GPS-capable digital fare meters on tourist taxis came into effect, the implementation has come to a screeching halt. The State government has been citing various reasons in its defence, she finds out

emarkable rise in passenger complaints against the tourist taxi operators for overcharging, rudeness and not taking direct routes to certain destinations have given Goa’s tourism industry a major blow. Raining complaints on the social media from visitors ~ who go back with not-so-good memories owing to the ‘fare loot’ ~ has raised concern among the stakeholders whether Goa government is really serious about shedding Goa’s bad image.  

All thanks to some political bigwigs under whose blessings the taxi operators continue to dominate the business with nobody to question why do they overcharge.  Even 14 months after a notification to install GPS-capable digital fare meters on tourist taxis came into effect, the implementation has come to a screeching halt. The State government has been citing various reasons in its defence. 

The seven-year-old flare-up between a Russian businessman and local taxi owner Ravi Shetgaonkar that led to the latter’s murder is still fresh in the minds of the people. The incident had sparked hostilities between locals and Russian tourists. 

While fights over fare disputes between the taxi drivers and the passengers continue, several attempts by the State government to install fare meters over the last decade have failed. After initially protesting installation of the digital meters, the taxi operators have put forth conditions before accepting the new system leaving the government in quandary. 

“We accept the cabinet decision but not until the authorities crackdown on the hoteliers too. If we overcharge our passengers, then why are the hotel industries left out? A consistent fare on every route should be imposed on them as well,” All Goa Tourist Taxi Association Secretary Vinayak Nanoskar demanded. 

He went on to accuse the hoteliers of fleecing its clients and moreover, cheating the taxi operators. “If we charge Rs 1,200 from Calangute to Vasco, the hotels charge around Rs 2,200 from their passengers. We might charge a little extra because of traffic jams on several routes. In the tourist season, plying from Calangute to Dabolim takes nearly six hours, but the hotels fleece passengers without applying their minds. Sometimes taxi operators, who tie-up with the hotels are themselves unaware of the exorbitant fee imposed by the latter,” he alleged demanding to curb the illegal practice among several hotel managements. 

The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), backed by Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industries (GCCI) and related stakeholders have already knocked the doors of the High Court of Bombay at Goa seeking its intervention to ensure implementation of the December 2015 notification. Upset with this move, the taxi operators are now up in arms against the associations. “Who are they (TTAG and GCCI) to demand digital meters for tourist taxis? They want to up their business.... In fact, hoteliers not only cheat their clients on the transport but also on room tariffs and exchange of foreign currency,” he alleged. “Government should take action against them.” 

Another aggrieved taxi operator Ram Ulhas accused the government of attempting to kill the source of locals’ livelihood and encourage non-Goan to take over the businesses into the State. “Government has been making attempts to bring Ola and Uber cabs through back door. Digital meters installation is nothing but harassment to local taxi drivers,” he said. 

Raju Kerkar, who has only one taxi to feed his family of five, rued over government’s sensitivity towards the needs of such locals. “My children are studying. I have to pay their school fees, feed my family and fulfill many basic needs. Will the government feed my family,” he questioned. 

The taxi operators have also been demanding to bring an end to illegal vehicle rentals. “Only those having licenses should operate. We have seen that if 16,500 rent-a-bikes are registered, double the numbers are operating illegally. Government should crack down on this illegal business too,” Nanoskar said. This argument gives rise to another issue wherein rent-a-cab are demanding that government heed to its promise to regularize their licenses. 

The others stakeholders argue that taxi services in Goa are unpredictable, unorganised and expensive. This is the main reason, TTAG President Savio Messias said, why rent-a-car services catch the attention of the visitors. “A tourist has a right to use any mode of transport permitted under the law, tourists around the world have a right to choose whatever means of transport that suits their pockets and which they are comfortable to use. Taxis cannot lay down terms and conditions. If hiring bikes has become such a hit, the only reason why it became popular is because tourists found the taxi fares exorbitant and opted for a cheaper mode of transport which has not become a craze,” he said. 

Backed by a strong political force, the taxi operators have managed to stall the implementation as on date. While some have support from Calangute legislator Michael Lobo, many others in the South are patronized by Churchill Alemao and Francisco ‘Mickky’ Pacheco. 

While TTAG claimed that politicians confess of vote bank politics, the taxi association has denied commenting on the issue. “We met most of the ministers and MLAs. Just a couple of them were supporting the taxi drivers but when we discussed the issue with them they sympathized with us and confessed that it was vote bank politics. The CM’s comments with a section of the media were very clear that he was unhappy with their attitude,” Messias said. Nanoskar on the other hand has refused to comment on the political interference. 

Going back to a series of protests by the taxi owners, these politicians did not leave any stone unturned to come on the streets. Calangute MLA Michael Lobo, whose sustained campaign led the government to form committees and sub-committees to discuss the digital meters, demanded that the issues between tourist taxis and rent-a-cabs should be resolved immediately. He had reminding the Government to go back to its 2012 assurance about fulfilling the demands.

“Whoever has doubts can get it cleared that we are here to solve the issue be it tourist taxis or rent-a-cabs. We will work out a mechanism to put a system in place and monitor every activity thoroughly,” Lobo said adding “It hurts when Goa gets a bad name.”

Whereas Mickky, citing fluctuating petrol prices almost every month, has asked the government to fix a tariff instead of insisting to install digital meters. “Let the government decide a common tariff for all, for the simple reason that petrol prices are never consistent. How will a cabbie adjust if petrol prices go up and down,” he asked. 

Related faceoff interview with Vinayak Nanoskar & Ralph de Souza on page 4 >>

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