For one day on Thursday, taxi drivers showed who was in charge. They effectively blocked tour operators from picking cruise passengers (tourists) for an all-Goa tour, made tourists walk back and forth from the cruise terminal, (which is good cardio, if you ask me) and got the police and government to bend backwards (which is good stretching, but generally bad for governance).
Taxi owners are a state within a state. They are a law unto themselves. And if nothing has taught the transport minister, then this incident should serve as an eye-opener that an app is not going to tame this bunch. In fact, nothing is.
The taximen, who completely disrupted the tour plans of cruise passengers, have been demonised over the years. They have been referred to as mafia, thugs and goondas. They have been labelled as the bad guys who give tourism a bad name. They have been blamed for lowering the prestige of brand Goa, and so on and so forth.
But at the end of the day, it was the tour operators who came out with egg on their face. Why? Because taximen have numbers, which in a democracy is everything. Because they are willing to use force when necessary, and generally get away with it. Because they fiercely guard their business interests.
At the end of the day, the government’s iron fist was covered with a velvet glove, and the issue was framed as a “miscommunication” between taxi drivers and tour operators, who cannot of the love of God and Goa understand how they became the bad guys.
The Mormugao MLA Sankalp Amonkar came out in favour of the taxi owners. The tourism minister said the government would come down with a heavy hand if this continues, which means the heavy hand will be used in the future, not now.
Of course, two taximen were booked for assault, but that’s about it. By and large, the government has taken the stance that a meeting of all stakeholders has to be called to resolve the issue, which, all said and done, is probably the best way of sweeping this issue under the carpet.
Truth be told, the battle between tour operators and taxi owners/drivers is an ancient one. There are no good or bad guys here, just business interests. Tour operators are trying to gain a foothold in the tour sector by introducing buses, and taxi owners are using muscle to push them out.
For instance, if the tour operator had hired taxis to take cruise passengers on an all-Goa tour, this problem would not have happened. Or if a mix of buses and taxis were to be used, everything would have gone smoothly. Somebody somewhere decided to break the mould and boldly go where no man has gone.
The taxi trade is regulated and unregulated at the same time. They have a rate card but use the time-tested market metric of supply and demand to fix rates, almost on a daily basis. And this works for them and many hotels that have taxis on contract.
Of course, taxi owners did go overboard this time. But in a fight between the elite and lower classes, there usually are no rules. It is a world where a level playing field between tour operators and taximen is created by force. What is good for tourism and Goa is that this tenuous balance or arrangement between the two is maintained.