When 30-year-old Seema Kunde (name changed) fromMargao decided to take her elderly parents for a weekend break to a South Goa resort in February 2014, she had no idea what was in store.
“We travelled to the resort in my car and parked it in a lane reserved for guests outside the property. Soon after checking in, I received a call from the hotel staff asking me to come to the reception with my car papers. When I went, I was told to go to the taxi drivers camping outside the resort and show them the papers,” said Kunde, who said she was left to her own devices to prove to the taxi drivers that she is indeed a local using her own car and not a tourist using a local friend’s car for internal travel. Kunde, despite being a local resident, was left seething with anger and also fearful for the safety of her elderly parents and her self.
The anxiety caused is worse when a tourist is accosted in an unknown land.
Online travel portals and reviews for hotels across Goa on websites like TripAdvisor and GoIbibo are awash with first-person experiences of tourists who have similar horror stories to narrate.
“My friend told me that taxi prices are exorbitant in Goa and offered me his car. There were taxi drivers camping outside the resort I was staying in and the hotel staff who said we are expected to use taxis run by those drivers only. We didn’t do so, and later on, I found all four tyres of my friend’s car slashed,” posted a user.
Steep fares, helpless hotel staff and taxi drivers forcing hotel guests to hire their services are common themes in the posts that also mention the political backing taxi operators in Goa enjoy, which allows them to get away with their behaviour.
While hotel owners and other tourism-related businesses in Goa have time and again pointed to this menace as a problem causing a major dent in the state’s image as a tourist-friendly location, the government has failed to get taxi operators to comply with the fares it has fixed.
Every time there is a discussion regarding installation of digital meters, there are aggressive protests, holding the entire tourism industry to ransom. Though taxi operators have not opposed the installation of digital meters, they have laid down conditions to be fulfilled, like regulation of rent-a-vehicles. The rent-a-vehicle facilities provide cars for hire to people with valid driving licences who drive around by themselves and do not avail of drivers’ services.
“We are absolutely disgusted with the behaviour of the taxi operators. They are fleecing tourists who have suffered for long. We are now going to approach the high court. We want taxi operators to install digital meters as soon as possible,” said president of Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) Savio Messias.
“In no other state do tourists go and hire cars to drive themselves around. Then why do they do so only in Goa? Only 70 self-drive vehicles have valid permits to operate under the rent-a-vehicle model. But, there are over 8,000 such vehicles operating in Goa and most of them are given on rent illegally. Taxi operators running legal businesses are suffering because of this, even as businesses run by those without licences are flourishing. Some taxi drivers own just one vehicle and they are losing out on their livelihood,” said the general secretary of North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners’ Association, Vinayak Nanoskar, ruing that the government has failed to act despite their repeated pleas. He threatened that taxi operators will now take to the streets if the rent-a-vehicle businesses are not shut down permanently.
“Rent-a-car businesses have to be cracked down. We will not allow anyone to earn a living if our livelihood is not being protected by the state administration,” said Nanoskar.
Messias, on the other hand, dismissed Nanoskar’s claims that there are over 8,000 such cars plying in Goa. “We are aware of cases of taxi owners themselves renting out vehicles to tourists to drive around. We have cards of such taxi drivers to prove that they offer rent-a-vehicles outside of offering taxis,” said Messias.
Recently, following demands from the North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners’ Association, the regional transport office (RTO) had formed a flying squad to stop tourists from driving around in private vehicles without proper rent-a-car permit, and the squad has been fining owners and also seized a large number of cars.
The high court of Bombay at Goa had earlier declined to provide any relief to owners of private cars who have been renting out their vehicles to tourists without proper permits. The high court order had directed the transport department, the appropiate authority in this matter, to consider the applications within eight weeks and take a decision on whether to issue rent-a-car permits or not. This had sparked off tension in the North Goa beach belt with the flying squad being blocked by rent-a-car operators.