January 28, 2017 2:27:47 pm
Pallavi Singh, a consultant working in Gurgaon, is on her fifth trip to Goa. While this time it is work that’s got her to travel here, the one complaint that she has is the coastal state’s failure to fix its transportation issue, or simply, the lack of one. “The last time I was here was in the last week of December 2016. Everything else was fine – the food, the night markets, the stay, except for the taxi drivers who just want to fleece us. We paid three times the amount to get from Panjim to Candolim on the 31st. Why can’t the government fix the issue? Why can’t we have an Uber or Ola service here?”
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Pallavi is not alone in her ‘outrage’ against Goa’s taxi operators. The demand to regulate taxi fares has been raised repeatedly for years by the tourism industry, but each time, the government buckles under pressure from the taxi operators who threaten to cease operations if any reform measures are suggested.
“Technology has changed the taxi scenario across the country and the world, but in Goa we still want to adopt the old style – catch one tourist, squeeze him and be done for the day,” Travel and Tourism Association of Goa President Savio Messias says. When asked who should be held responsible, Messais says it’s the nexus between some of the coastal MLAs and the taxi operators that’s stalling change.
Rocky Rodrigues, 51, had been operating a tourist taxi for over 30 years, but switched to the ‘more disciplined’ yellow and black airport taxi service two years ago. “The tourist taxi service puts too much strain on my health, here, at the airport pre-paid service, it’s much easier. We do about three – four trips in a day and we don’t have to hassle over payments.”
But the charge at the airport is far from modest and passengers don’t have a choice because no other taxi services or cab aggregators are allowed to operate. A trip from the airport to Panjim, the capital city, costs Rs 870, for a distance of 34 kms in a non-ac vehicle. For those who want to visit the tourist belt in the north of Goa, a ride to Candolim (47 kms) costs Rs 1200 (non-ac). A trip down south to Loliem, in Canacona, costs Rs 2220 for a distance of 87 kms.
While Rodrigues claims that the fare hike has been after a few years, TTAG’s Messais says there shouldn’t be one in any case. “The rates were, from the beginning itself, high. What was the need for another hike? Additionally, the rate of fuel in Goa is the lowest in the country.”
Messais, however, holds the tourist taxi operators more responsible than the black and yellow taxis that operate from the airport. “They (tourist taxis) are out to loot tourists. The rates at the cruise terminal, at the harbour, is even higher than at the airport. They charge $100 (Rs 6,800) for a 30 km ride from Panjim to Old Goa and back! We have filed a PIL in the High Court two weeks ago. It will come up for hearing next week. Why can’t the government enforce the use of meters in tourist taxis? They only use it once – when they need to renew their taxi license.”
Does Goa need Mopa?
The need for a new airport in Goa has been debated since the early 1990s and it was in 1999, after a series of high level committee meetings that the Congress government agreed to consider the idea. Ever since, almost all political parties are divided on the issue – as it has now turned into a battle between the north and the south. In the upcoming elections, the ruling BJP has committed to having both the airports operational, but industry experts says mere talks won’t work as it would require an amendment to the existing law.
The Mopa airport, a greenfield airport to be built on a BOT (build operate transfer) basis by GMR, comes at the cost of Rs 3000 crore. In its first phase, the airport will cater to about 4.4 million passengers, and hopes to cater to about 13 million by the end of the fourth phase. The state government had acquired 78 lakh square meters of land for the project.
The present airport, which operates out of Dabolim, is equidistant between the north and south coastal belts. However, the airport is partly in control of the defence ministry. A new airport, the south Goa tourism stakeholders fear, will ensure that Dabolim is eventually shut down for civilian use.
“Why can’t they move the navy out of the airport and develop it even more? If they open a new airport in the extreme north, we will suffer. Nobody will want to come to the south anymore as it will be inconvenient for a short weekend stay,” Rodrigues says.
But TTAG’s Messais says Mopa is much needed given the ever-increasing inflow of tourists and the lack of available facilities. “Mopa is a must but the government must ensure there is enough infrastructure in place as well. We need an expressway to the south as well as a proper rail system,” he says. On whether Dabolim could be revived, Messias says they have repeatedly petitioned the government to lift a four-hour daily shutdown of the runway for civilian use. “We understand the navy needs to use it but why can’t they allow us to also land in that timeslot, but give the navy priority. They are doing the same in Pune, what’s stopping them from doing it here in Goa?”
Messais says business is affected as several international airlines want to land in Goa but they aren’t able to get a convenient slot. “Finnair, Emirates are some of the airlines that want to operate out of Goa but there just isn’t any slot available. We need the new airport to cater to the growing demand.”
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