Is Cheating Tourists the Birth-Right of Taxi Operators?

By Ashwin Tombat
09 June 2019 13:00 IST

On Saturday 1 June, former Chief Minister of Goa and present Benaulim MLA Churchill Alemao allegedly slapped a GoaMiles taxi driver and threatened him with dire consequences. Mr Alemao denies the charge.

The MLA led a group of tourist taxi operators to the Colva Residency and demanded that GoaMiles drivers vacate the premises, as tourist taxi operators were losing business. A GoaMiles cab that arrived while arguments were underway was allegedly stoned by angry tourist taximen.

GoaMiles app-based taxis operate from tourist residencies. Both the app and the residencies are owned by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC).

Obviously, GoaMiles is very successful. Otherwise, why would tourist taxis complain that they are losing business?

The All Goa Taxi Owners Association (AGTOA) and the North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners Association (NGTTOA) have both demanded scrapping of the GoaMiles App. They are supported by the Yellow and Black Taxi Association. They also want Transport Director and GTDC Managing Director Nikhil Desai to be removed.

GoaMiles taxi operators, they complain, are ‘outsiders’ who are depriving Goan taxi owners of their livelihood. They are also opposed to abolishment of the ‘badge system’, a special licence required to drive commercial vehicles. Apparently, now anybody with a driving licence can drive a taxi. Third, they want a 15-year domicile made mandatory for all taxi drivers, to ensure that locals get employment.

The GTDC says that the overwhelming majority of GoaMiles taxi operators are Goans. There is no way of verifying this claim. I have personally booked GoaMiles taxis twice in the past month. On both occasions, the taxi operator was a Goan.

If a 15-year domicile requirement and knowledge of Konkani is introduced as an essential pre-condition for GoaMiles taxi operators, this problem can be tackled. A ‘badge’ could also be made compulsory. Neither of these demands by taxi owners is unreasonable.

But, even if all their demands are met, will the taxi operators agree to join the GoaMiles app, as Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has suggested? Will they set up their own app, as they often claimed they would do? Will they at least agree to operate by meter?

From past experience, taximen will say NOTA to all these options.

Goa’s taxi operators have always resisted any kind of regulations. Over decades, they resolutely refused to install meters on their taxis. They gave various justifications at various times. But not one of them ever made any sense.  

On 21 September 2018, the High Court of Bombay at Goa imposed costs of Rs10,000 on the Goa  government (recoverable from the “officer concerned”) for delays in implementing Rule 140 of the Goa Motor Vehicles Rules, 1991, to fit all taxis with fare meters. The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) and Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) had jointly filed a petition in 2016 in the ‘interest of tourism and tourists in Goa’.

In November 2018, the government put out a tender for 33,000 GPS-based taxi fare meters. It appointed two agencies to install the meters. Taximen were to get a 50 per cent subsidy (up to Rs5,000). These meters were to be operational by June 2019.

June is here. But where are the meters? The taximen’s associations are refusing to install them, in defiance of orders from the High Court!

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho (he was awarded the portfolio only on Saturday) as well as Transport Director and GTDC MD Nikhil Desai should seriously and sympathetically consider the Taximen’s demands that all taxi operators (including the app-based ones) must have a 15-year domicile, have knowledge of Konkani, and a commercial ‘badge’.

If these demands are conceded, will the taxi drivers drop their demand for closing down GoaMiles? Will they agree to join the app? Alternatively, will they set up an app of their own? If an app is not the solution they want, will they at least agree to install meters in their taxis and charge customers strictly according to the meters?

If they agree to any of the above, it will mean that they are sincere in their demands. If not, it will only confirm the suspicion in the minds of most Goans that basically, what the taxi operators want is to go on cheating tourists as well as locals; to charge exorbitant fares, and to do ‘dadagiri’ to ensure that they are allowed to continue to cheat tourists and locals, as if it is their birth right.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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