Ill-conceived policy, political patronage led to taxi mess

The Taxi owners and drivers have always been kept divided by political bosses for their own selfish motives. If some chose to go along with certain decisions, the politicians made sure that their followers did not go along with those decision. It has suited the politicians to keep them divided . This has also been the case of tour operators. who have been the source of problems for the the taxi operators . The government has never been keen to come out with a well founded policy for them .

Over the past one week, Brand Goa has got one of its severest beatings in recent years. The three-day taxistrike that culminated with the state government bowing to pressure from the operators has been in the making for many years. With no clear-cut transport policy in place, lopsided planning over the years and political patronage thrown in, the current crisis was waiting to happen.
“When the state witnessed an exponential growth of tourism after 2011, the government failed to look at the transportation aspect of the tourists. As the tourism pie became bigger, everyone jumped on to the bandwagon for a slice. What was necessary was planning and proper regulations,” says an industry watcher.

Goa’s tourism has seen a steady increase from the eighties, but things started getting messy over the past eight years. From 26.5 lakh tourist footfalls in 2010, it rose to 63.3 lakh in 2016—an increase of 140%—without much change in infrastructure or public transport.

The only thing that successive governments did was allow unbridled rise of tourist taxis.

“We promoted tourism with roadshows across the country and even abroad. The effect was the inflow of tourists jumped drastically. But there was no plan to take care of the huge inflow and that led to the chaos,” he says.

“In the past, the government prepared a master plan with focus on accommodation and entertainment, but ignored the transportation needs of the tourists,” says Roland Martins, a social activist and convenor of Jagrut Goenkaranchi Fouz that had worked closely for the welfare of beach shacks in the nineties.

Agrees TTAG president Savio Messias: “You go to any tourist destination in the world and there is an alternative mode of transport for the tourists. Here, there is no choice for the tourists in Goa.”

Former tourism director, U D Kamat too said, “Just as you know how many rooms you need for the next say 5 years or so, plan should have been in place for the transportation needs of the tourists.”

Tourism stakeholders have been asking for a moratorium on licensing of more taxis. “There were more taxis than tourists and the desperation set in among the cabbies, especially the single vehicle owners,” says an industry source. Other factors like illegal taxis, hoteliers plying buses, entrepreneurs running fleets of two-wheelers for tourists and the taxi drivers own aggressive attitude out of desperation contributed to decline in Goa’s brand.

Failure to regulate the trade, examine other aspects of Goa’s public image and non-utilisation of technology have brought ills to tourism, observers say.

“Goa could have been the first state in the country to start app-based transport system,” Martins said. For many years now, tourists as well as locals have been demanding for an app-based service like Ola or Uber in Goa.

“If the local taxi operators were opposed to entry of Ola or other brand, then the government should have come out with its own system the way GTDC is now planning to do. Apprehensions will always be there for a change. It’s the government’s responsibility to educate the stakeholders and explain how it would be a win-win situation. Unfortunately, no government or for that matter, no tourism minister, has given thought of how the taxi service could be improved with the support of the taximen,” say tourism stakeholders.

Local taxi operators feared that they would be out of business if big brands entered Goa. But the government never made them aware of the benefits.

“One can understand their anxiety as taxi business is the only one, other than shack business, where the locals are running the show in a big way. It’s a worldwide principle that in the development of tourism, the tourism pie must go to the locals. But ultimately, it is the government’s initiative to ensure that it works properly and doesn’t end in chaos and problems for the end user,” they say.