It is take-off time for tourist season in Goa, the land of sun, sand, surf and sorpotel and we can think of another three-letter word beginning with s and ending with x to go with that alliteration, but since this is a family newspaper, one can let that drop.
Seriously, however, there is nothing remotely sexy about internal travel rates in Goa. Terribly expensive intra-Goa transport surely burns a hole in most pockets, at times, your travel expenses can go over tariff for a short holiday. For months now, organizations and individuals have been pressing for a more regulated commuterscape within Goa.
Salvador De Costa, convenor and spokesperson of SpeakGoa, a non-profit social forum actively involved in creating awareness on civic, environmental and economic issues in Goa, says, “Goa has the highest minimum fare for autos and taxis in India. Even on ordinary, non-peak days an autorickshaw driver charges a minimum of Rs 30 for a distance of even less than 1 km.
Taxis charge Rs 50 for a very short distance and the fare can go up to Rs 100 for distances of about 2 km. In Mumbai, the minimum fare for autos and taxis is Rs 15 and Rs 19 respectively. Pilots or motorcycle taxis, who carry only one passenger, also charge nothing less than Rs 30 for a distance of about 1 km.” De Costa states that during Carnival or when tourist traffic is especially high, drivers charge up to thrice this amount.
SpeakGoa, which lives up to its name, giving voice to the unfare practices (pun intended) in Goa, says that night fares are ‘unofficially’ started at 7 pm, though officially they have to begin from 8 pm. Compare this to Mumbai where night fares are applicable only after midnight, other cities which have night fares starting only from 10 pm or 11 pm. In spite of being fuelled by tourists who like to party late, Goa is the only state in the entire country where night fares start from as early as 8 pm! De Costa says, “This is a national shame. Tourists and those who come to Goa for work or to provide services are fleeced by auto and taxi drivers who charge randomly without any consideration.”
During what the locals call peak season, one can find taxis charging Rs 2,000 from Panaji to Calangute, autos charging a prohibitive Rs 1,500 for short distances and bike pilots charging Rs 500 to 800 for a distance less than 20-km. “This is a disgrace. Is this how we treat our guests, the very guests whom we should be thankful to for keeping the economy of the state going?” asks De Costa. Goa has no charge-by-meter, no rate cards, no uniform fares, no system of fines for overcharging taxis and autos. “The Government must be forced to act and implement electronic meters,(like in cities like Mumbai and Delhi) or a similar system, to correctly measure the distance travelled and charge passengersaccordingly,” says De Costa with conviction.
Mumbai tourists who are Goa regulars also rue the narrow choice of public transport. Says Samantha Furtado (24) from Santacruz (W), “There should be more public transport accessible to people. Since there isn’t, it is more feasible for people who don’t have their own vehicles in Goa, to hire a bike or a car. When I go to Goa with friends, we always hire bikes. On an average, one can hire a bike for approximately R 400 per day and you can keep it for any number of days, whereas if you travel by rickshaw or taxi in Goa, one might end up paying more than that only for a one-way journey. That too for less than 10 km!”
For Andheri’s Christina Moniz (28) it is a question of lingo too. Moniz travels to Goa approximately thrice a year. She says, “Travelling within Goa is very expensive. Now the rates have increased and you have to actually negotiate with taxis, rickshaws and pilots. For this, you need to know the language and as a result, many tourists get fleeced. The prices charged are ridiculous. “In Mumbai, from Andheri to Santacruz, which is approximately 7 km, I would pay approximately Rs 70 to 75 for a one-way journey by rickshaw. In Goa, for the same distance from Aldona to Mapusa, I would pay approximately Rs 300 to 400. Similarly, if I travel by taxi from Dadar to Andheri in Mumbai I would not pay more than Rs200 for a distance of 14 km, while in Goa from Tivim to Aldona which is also 14 km, I would pay a minimum Rs 800 to 900. The rates are almost three times that of what we pay in Mumbai. During high season (Christmas and New Year) the fares are exorbitant.”
“Travelling in Goa is not easy, especially for senior citizens. The buses are not regular; they are overcrowded, and their steps are too high to climb. As there is no CNG, rickshaws and taxis run on petrol and the concept of meters will never work in Goa as the fares will increase every time there is an increase in petrol prices,” said Santacruz (E) resident Philip Pereira (73).
“Moreover taxis and rickshaws have their own groups and charge you a return fare, claiming that they are not allowed to ferry passengers from your destination as the rickshaw and taxi drivers from that area will object. The government should intervene and stop this. It is too expensive for retired citizens to pay such exorbitant rates.”
Goa locals too are struggling to pay these fares. Petula Moraes (24), who lives in Candolim in Goa said, “I think twice before Igo out especially at night. Getting back is always a problem as it is too expensive to take a taxi, and the last bus is quite early. I have to depend on friends when I go out at night, as one cannot rely on local transport. Tourists also will have to think twice before getting out at night. Either they go somewhere whichis within walking distance or are prepared to pay unreasonablerates. Often, there are clashes between tourists and drivers and you often see them arguing,” says Moraes.
Mumbai’s Professor N Sardesai maintains a car in Goa, which she visits at least six times a year. She has a home in Verem, Reis Magos across the river from Panjim. Prof Sardesai thinks there has to be government intervention to regulate fares within Goa, as it affects Indian tourists mainly, while foreigners calculate in the exchange rate. Tourists are almost coerced, there is little option. There is nobody to complain to or arbitrate. Even the hotels are helpless or are in league with the cabbies.”
Inputs by Avril-Ann Braganza
All’s wheel, that don’t end well
Ashwin Tombat, avid Goa-based sailor, who also teaches the sport, says, “Commuter buses between the principal towns are regular, but very crowded. Most people in Goa have two-wheelers, rather than cars. I think the fact that the ratio of vehicle (2 and 4 wheelers) to population in Goa is 1:2 (the highest in the country), and illustrates that not having one’s own transport in Goa can make things difficult.
Then, consider that distances in Goa are much longer than those in Mumbai, Delhi and other major cities. For example, it takes about as long to drive from Panaji to Margao as it does from, say, VT to Mahim. But the former distance is close to 40km, while the latter distance is 16km. Some of the ‘high’ taxi fares in Goa are only owing to the greater distances involved. But this problem is compounded by the fact that cabbies in Goa charge return fares regardless of whether one returns or not. Besides, cabbies at luxury hotels often simply overcharge tourists.”
In the end, Tombat too thinks the government should step in, but admits, “This is difficult in Goa, as taxi drivers are seen by Goan politicians as an influential interest group that needs to be pandered to.”
Nikhil Desai, Managing Director (MD) of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), and Director of Tourism, Government of Goa acknowledges that meters are the need of the hour and high fares are a drawback for tourism, which is the lifeblood of Goa. Desai has however not committed definitely to metered transport, saying, “talks are on” and he is “tackling the issue on priority basis.” One has to see whether these are platitudes or translate into action.
Q: Internal travel in Goa is not regulated…
Desai: There are complaints that traditional taxi drivers in Goa in both the North and the South, charge unfair rates. This is adversely affecting Goa’s reputation as a tourism destination. This situation is leading to tourists having an unsatisfactory experience in Goa. We realize that this is a burning issue and needs immediate and effective intervention. We are addressing this by engaging taxi drivers, local media and building public opinion on the advantages of having metered taxis. We are working together with TTAG (Travel and Tourism Association of Goa) and taxi operators to work out the way ahead through a joint strategy.
At times, you see visitors zipping around on mo-bikes which are rented out, with no safety gear -- helmets etc. What condition are these vehicles in? Is the government involved?
A: Rented bikes are a good way to get around within Goa. They are affordable and safe too. Department of Tourism urges tourists to wear helmets to ensure safety and adhere to traffic rules and regulations.
People state there is a syndicate between hotels and drivers of vehicles who charge at will
A: We are unaware of such a nexus between hotels and taxi drivers. But getting inexpensive transportation within Goa is a problem for tourists. We are taking up this issue on priority and are determined to tackle it right away. Metered taxis are the best solution for this -- it has worked everywhere in the world and it will work in Goa too. We are in talks with the taxi associations. We are also contemplating introducing hop-on hop-off bus services in major tourist areas.