As tourism flows in India, demand for better services at best prices is increasing. The trend of renting self-drive cars is rising in Goa as this service gives one the choice to rent a car across Goa and use it to their own convenience. This also comes at a cheaper rate compared to the taxi fare. But has this affected the business of taxi drivers across Goa? 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 operators of rent-a-cab lend their vehicles to the patrons for self-drive. While the two parties carry on with their bitter battle, it is the tourists who have to suffer the trouble, often ending up in arguments with the cops on the streets or in the Police Station.
In the Calangute- Candolim belt where there is a large number of tourists, 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.
Adding to that Vengurlekar said that the entry of rental car services has affected the business of taxi drivers and it is for the same reason that they oppose the entry of services like Ola and Uber, and have the rent-a-car scheme suspended. “The livelihood of the families of thousand of taxi owners who have given up their traditional occupation to drive cabs, are at stake,” Vengurlekar said. Despite the government having stopped the rent-a-car scheme to tourists, the illegal service still continues.
Although the transport department formed the flying squad to track down on illegal rental vehicles, the process to stop, attach and the fine car takes more than 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 government cancel the licenses of these cars given on rent as per the provisions of Motor Vehicle 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 is legalized. “We are ready to pay all licenses 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.
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.
Both sides have been holding regular agitations to meet their demands. The problem continues with no resolution in sight.