Panaji, May 3 (IANS) When was the last time you alighted from a flight or train to Goa and paid cab fare by the meter to your hotel? Thanks to rogue cabbies, the answer has to be never.
Concerned by decades of rogue taxi operations, which end up fleecing hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the state annually as well as the indigenous population by functioning without meters and charging passengers by "will and instinct", the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) is now lobbying with Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to bring order in the public transport sector.
"For years now taxi operators have got away with murder. Sometimes, for even the smallest of distances within Panaji, they charge more than Rs.300, which is almost unreal," GCCI president Manguirish Pai Raikar told IANS.
Raikar said the new Parrikar-led government had been petitioned by taxi operators to sort out some of their internal issues and this was the best time for the government to bring order and sanity to taxi fares.
"The government has to insist on meters. This is a tourist place, but that does not mean you fleece them like this? Taxi drivers are supposed to be the brand ambassadors of Goa, but they are the ones who virtually put the tourists off the moment they land in Goa," Raikar said.
In 2011, 2.6 million tourists came to Goa, including half a million foreigners.
Raikar's concern is put in perspective by the ordeal of Jayesh Patel, a medical representative who came to Goa from Mumbai on a holiday and alighted at the Dabolim international airport, located 30 km from Panaji.
"The taxi charged me Rs. 650! From the airport to Panaji. I checked the standard fare and it was Rs.422 only. Then from Panaji to Calangute beach, which is around 20 km, I was asked to pay Rs.800 because it was around 9 p.m.," Patel said.
In 2011, the Goa government started mulling the idea of fitting cabs with global positioning system (GPS) devices and electronic metres.
"We are working in coordination with the transport department to install GPS transmitters and electronic meters to make sure that the tourists have an enjoyable experience here while travelling," tourism director Swapnil Naik had promised in July last year. But the innovation simply did not take off.
A sensitisation drive starring one of Goa's best known theatre actors, Prince Jacob, trying to instill the 'Atithi Devo Bhava' values in cab operators also appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
Raikar said the GCCI was willing to work on sensitisation programmes as well as lobbying with the Goa government for subsidising the metres to be fitted on the cabs.
"The current lawlessness as far as taxi fares are concerned has to change, if Goa is to retain its name as a top and safe tourism destination. We have to work at standardising the fares and insist on functioning cab meters," Raikar said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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