Panaji: India's first all-women tourism taxi service, flagged off three months ago in Goa, has hit a roadblock.
A Church-operated NGO Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT) Thursday said that contrary to public knowledge, a private company was running the cab service and that the women drivers were being allegedly forced to drive at night with male passengers without any security.
CRT blamed the Goa Tourism Development Corp (GTDC) for the "scam and sham".
According to Fr. Maverick Fernandes, who heads Caritas (under which CRT functions), the social and charitable wing of the influential Roman Catholic Church in Goa, the 10 women taxi drivers roped in to drive the radio-taxi fleet were not even trained in basic martial arts.
GTDC launched the cab service in October last year.
"The GTDC has been lying all along. About martial arts, about the taxi service being run by the corporation, about salaries and their rules about ferrying women clients," Fernandes told a press conference.
"Instead of making them entrepreneurs as they had claimed, they have opened doors for private taxi operators and made the women employees," he said.
Goa is one of the leading beach tourism destinations in India and attracts nearly three million tourists annually.
But the lack of public transport, coupled with the need to ensure safer travel for women, led the GTDC to start the all-women taxi service.
The media kit provided to journalists at the time suggested that the taxi service was started by tourism authorities.
"Even the women drivers were given the impression that they were being hired by GTDC before the service was outsourced to a private cab operator, which has rendered these women vulnerable in more ways than one," Fernandes said.
Said Rita Vaz, one of the women drivers: "We do not feel safe on the roads at night. The emergency buttons provided in the car do not work and the GPS tracking service stops after 7 p.m.
"Earlier, the rules said we had to carry male clients if there was a woman along with them. Now the company wants us to ferry all-male passenger groups even at night," Vaz said.
Vaz and her colleagues have now decided to stop driving the radio-cabs until their demands for regulated salary, enhanced security and insurance cover were met.
GTDC officials said an official response to the allegations would be made later Thursday.