Taxi Operators up to their Old Tricks? (By Ashwin Tombat)

By Ashwin Tombat
31 May 2020 19:19 IST

The Covid-19 lockdown has hurt the travel and tourism sector the worst. Not only has tourism been completely shut these past two months, it appears that many months may pass before the sector becomes fully operational again.

On the bright side, some flights and a few trains to Goa have restarted. And, after some initial hiccups and much criticism, the government has finally put its standard operating procedures (SOPs) for handling incoming passengers in place.

Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant has demanded that the Centre should allow restaurants and gyms to open in the next phase of what seems to be a never-ending lockdown. Things are slowly but surely beginning to return to normal…

So normal, in fact, that Goa’s notorious taxi operators seem to have got back to their old games. One would expect that having gone through two months of complete loss of income, taxi operators would be desperate to get into action.

Not so.

Vice-President of the North Goa Tourist Taxi Owner Association Ravindra Vengurlekar says that except for those associated with GoaMiles, no taxi operator will ferry passengers. “We are afraid of getting infected by the deadly virus. If we ply our taxis then we may come in contact with someone who has Covid-19 infection. There is no option of social distancing in taxi service…” he said.

Mr Vengurlekar is also not in favour of the resumption of flight and train services, saying that the measures to screen travellers upon their arrival in the state are not “foolproof”. There is no “cast-iron guarantee” that a traveller who is asymptomatic cannot pass on the virus to another person, he declared.

Did Mr Vengurlekar ever have a “cast-iron guarantee” that he would not get knocked down by a speeding vehicle as soon as he stepped out of his house onto the main road? Before the lockdown, did he have a “cast-iron guarantee” that a speeding vehicle coming from the other side would not smash into his taxi on the road? Did he have a “cast-iron guarantee” that the Zuari Bridge – which was unsafe and had to be reinforced by external pre-stressed cables – would not fall down just as his taxi was driving over it?

Mr Vengurlekar should understand that life in itself does not offer any “cast-iron guarantees”. We all have to take sensible precautions and hope for the best.

According to a newspaper report, the cabbies believe that the Covid-19 virus is transmitted through the air (it isn’t). They also say that operating taxis without safety gear is risky. They have asked the CM to provide them with surgical masks and gloves. “But there is no positive response to the demand,” Mr Vengurlekar lamented.

Masks and gloves are available not just in every pharmacy, but even in kirana shops, for very modest amounts of money. Every citizen who goes out of the house to earn their daily bread buys masks with their own money for their own use. What makes taxi operators so special that the CM has to procure masks and gloves for them?

Use of a mask and regular application of alcohol-based hand sanitiser every time they open or close the doors of their taxis or handle passenger baggage, should keep taxi drivers safe from infection (please note that there is no “cast-iron guarantee” in this either).

Taxi operators lament about how the Covid-19 crisis has deprived them of their livelihood. They want a monthly allowance of ₹12,000 till business resumes. They want interest exemption on instalments of their vehicle loans, as well as relief from road tax, passenger tax, renewal of vehicle permit, renewal of authorisations, renewal of driving license, fitness certificate and PUC certificate, among others.

A monthly allowance seems impossible; not just because the cash-strapped state government can’t afford it but because similar demands will come from other sections that are equally badly affected. Some of the other demands seem reasonable, but if taxi operators are not going to show good faith by resuming operations, why should the government even consider them?

In clear contrast, GoaMiles has resumed full-fledged operations. It has reduced taxi fares to entice customers and also launched share-a-taxi operations to attract locals in the absence of tourists.

Goa’s motorcycle pilots are negotiating with the state government as well as a global app-based goods services delivery company for home delivery services using motorcycle pilots. They have also sought a far more reasonable financial relief scheme on the lines of the ₹6,000 package given to out-of-work labourers registered with the government.

When will Goa’s taxi operators learn that their good old days of ‘dadagiri’ are over? If the leaders keep up this nonsense, they will soon find that all their so-called followers will gradually register with GoaMiles and other App-based operators, and leave them high and dry.

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

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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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We have a cast iron guarantee that you cannot teach old dogs new tricks. So our taxi guys will continue until they perish with their old ways.

- Blaise Costabir, Goa | 01 st June 2020 04:30


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