THE All Goa Tourist Taxi Association is back to its old ways of intimidating the government to succeed in its narrow objective of driving away any competition and thwarting efforts to bring transparency to the business. The association has demanded suspension of GoaMiles, an app-based taxi service promoted by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC). It has threatened to take the law in its hands if the government fails to act on its demand before the elections to the two Lok Sabha and three Assembly constituencies take place. The association is very cleverly and brazenly using the opportunity to blackmail the government. Since its launch in August last year GoaMiles has been gaining popularity among tourists and locals and eating into the business of private taxi owners. The private taxi operators want GoaMiles to go, alleging it was “operated by outsiders.” After seeking help of Churchill Alemao, the Nationalist Congress Party legislator, they approached Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and his deputy Vijay Sardessai to seek their intervention and appear to be winning in their pressure tactics.
Taxi business has grown phenomenally in the state riding the growth of tourism. From 100-odd in the 1960s, the number of taxis has risen to over 20,000 and has been rising. The growth of tourism increased demand for taxis, which created opportunities for Goans to buy vehicles to earn their livelihood by providing service. However, taxi owners got into the habit of extracting unreasonable fare, least bothered about the fact that their greed was giving Goa a bad name. Several taxi owners made enough to buy more vehicles to operate as taxis. When they did not get locals they hired non-Goans as drivers. They did not raise the question of ‘outsiders’ then because it suited their interests. Taxi owners have organised into a group that can frighten conscience out of politicians’ hearts. This group has often brought the government down on to its knees, with some MLAs turning into their ardent champions to get them the best deal from the government. The government has often bowed down to the taxi operators even at the cost of hurting tourists and despite the fact that these deals dealt a blow to the image of the state and hurt the tourism sector.
Goa, despite being a tourist state and having mass appeal and attracting millions of tourists every year, did not have a transparent taxi business till August last year. To overcome the negative publicity Goa was getting because of the unfair practices of taxi owners the government introduced GoaMiles, an app-based taxi service. The introduction of the service has helped the state lessen some of the negative publicity as far as taxi services were concerned and driven confidence among tourists and locals. GoaMiles today claims to have around 1,450 taxis registered under its service and has been doing good business, indicating that the service is catching up. An increasing number of tourists staying in hotels are using GoaMiles taxis owing to its fair and transparent system rather than the taxis which park themselves at the hotels and other places. All the taxis operated under the service were registered in the state. With over 2 lakh people having downloaded the GoaMiles app, it has gained popularity in Goa. There is need to start more such app-based taxi services in the state.
Private taxi operators had written an obituary for app-based taxi services even before GoaMiles was introduced. After all they had successfully used their powers with ministers and MLAs to thwart app-based taxi services such as Ola and Uber. They want the politicians to act as insurance agents to keep their business of unreasonable fare secure forever. As their threats have worked wonders for them in the past, the taxi operators have chosen the weakest moment of politicians (election time) to force the government to do what they want. They have succeeded in getting an assurance from the Chief Minister that he would take an “appropriate decision in the next seven days.” Goans at large need to be vigilant and ready for opposition if the state government succumbs to their pressure. If the government does so, it will be betraying the cause of the common tourists and Goans who have to pay exorbitant rates for travel in a taxi from one part of the state to another. These are the same taxi operators who have even opposed installation of meters in their vehicles. They just want to enjoy the upper hand in deciding how much they must take from the traveller.