Deadlock between taxi owners and rent-a-car operators leaves tourists in lurch

The taxi industry, in recent times, has been marred indelibly by the everlasting trouble between taxi owners and operators of rent-a-cab businesses. The rent-a-cab operators lend vehicles for self-drive to patrons. While the two parties carry on with their own bitter battle, it is the tourists who have to bear the brunt of the trouble, often spending hours stranded at police stations or having extended arguments with cops on the streets.

Nowhere is this tension felt more, than in the Calangute-Candolim belt, which sees a high tourist footfall. Executive committee members of the North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners Association (NGTTOA), based in Calangute, recently got the state government to stop issuing permits to private rental car operators after an agitation a couple of years ago.

They have been vocal against the ‘illegal’ rental of private cars by the North Goa Rent-A-Cab Association (NGRAC) members, also based in Calangute.

“Taxi owners, along with shack owners and small guesthouse owners, are the original stakeholders of tourism in Goa. It is we who created tourism in Goa, not the big resort owners who came much later to cash in on the tourism boom. Because there was a demand for taxis, people started driving tourists around, to the airport, etc, which is how the tourist taxi service started,” NGTTOA vice-president Ravindra Vengurlekar said, his tone replete with a sense of entitlement towards Goa’s tourism industry.

The entry of private rental car services has affected their business, Vengurlekar says, adding that it is for the same reason that they oppose the entry of services like Ola and Uber, and have had the rent-a-car scheme suspended. “The livelihoods of the families of thousands of taxi owners, who have given up their traditional occupations to drive cabs, are at stake,” he said. “But despite the government having stopped the rent-a-car scheme and renting of private vehicles to tourists being illegal, it still continues.”

Although the transport department formed a flying squad to crack down on illegal rental vehicles, the process to stop, attach and fine one car takes between one to two hours because of the arguments that ensue. With there being hundreds of such private vehicles given out on rent or being illegally operated as taxis, not all of them can be seized at the same time, resulting in the business flourishing.

“We have been demanding that the state government cancel the licences of these cars which are given on rent illegally as per provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, but they are not doing so for reasons best known to them. It is the only solution, but the transport department is not acting. This is because a large number of government employees and politicians (starting at the panchayat level) have also purchased private cars and are giving them out on rent,” alleges Vengurlekar, explaining why the problem persists. Many of these cars without a taxi or a rent-a-car permit are given on rent to local unemployed youth, who surreptitiously use them as taxis to transport tourists.

 Members of the NGRAC, on the other hand, have been demanding that their illegal rental car business be legalized. “We are ready to pay all licence and permit fees. All we want is that our rental car business should be legalized,” says Nitesh Chodankar, executive committee member of the NGRAC. “We are also Goans and we should also benefit from tourism. Because of the opposition from taxi owners, outsiders have started benefiting as tourists rent vehicles in their own states and drive down to Goa to avoid all these hassles. We are the losers, and this also affects the taxi owners who are also deprived of business opportunities,” he says.
This is the reason for the large number of vehicles with outstation number plates being driven by tourists in Goa, which also leads to clogging of the roads.
According to Chodankar, outstation rent-a-car service providers have also set up shop in Goa with large fleets of vehicles registered in other states, that tourists can book in their home states before coming to Goa. This has escaped the radar of the transport department as they only target vehicles with Goan number plates.
With both sides holding regular agitations to press for their demands, the imbroglio continues, with no resolution in sight.