It was really quite surprising and refreshing to watch tour operators and government officials rush to the defence of a Rs 4,148 taxi fare bill for travel from the Mopa airport to Benaulim.
This is rare because the general approach (some media publications included) is to demonise taxi drivers.
The first reaction by the general public was that of shock. How can a taxi fare from Mopa to Benaulim be more than the air flight cost from Mumbai to Goa?
For a brief moment those in the taxi trade were castigated. That was until it became known that the bill was an official one, based on the government rate card.
Once this became known, the tourism and transport ministers found themselves in the ridiculous situation of defending the rate charged by the taxi.
Two weeks earlier they were on the bandwagon to show taxi drivers their place. Now the tables had turned and the government was left with egg on its face.
A lot of people who had invested an immense amount of time criticising taxi drivers suddenly realised they were standing on quicksand.
Taxi drivers apart, does the logic of a taxi fare being more than a flight ticket hold water? This argument has been propped up to ridicule the taxi operators and besmirch the tourism trade. Firstly, taxi fares are not uniform.
The more luxurious the car, the higher the rate. Simply put, you cannot travel in an Audi for the cost of a Maruti Omni. Media reports show that the car used was a seven-seater. Pretty large by any travel standard.
The crucial question ignored by everyone is how many travellers used the car. If it were a family or group of five, then the new equation would be Rs 15,000 for air travel (@ Rs 3000 per ticket). Now the taxi fare looks a lot smaller.
If the five members had to travel by Kadamba bus, they would have had to shell out 2,500 plus an additional amount for travel from Margao to Benaulim.
Now the taxi fare of Rs 4,148 looks quite reasonable. (Incidentally, the taxi fare was Rs 3,200 and it was government taxes that hiked it to Rs 4,148.)
Another flawed comparison being made is between travel rates in Goa vis-a-vis those in metros like Mumbai and Bengaluru, where the trade is controlled by Ola, Uber and other taxi aggregators.
The problem with this comparison is that it does not take into consideration that Goa is a tourism destination and like all destinations around the world, services come at a higher cost.
Secondly, people flock to Goa precisely because it is not a metro. So please do not apply metro standards to Goa.
We are an ‘ajeeb’ state and we will have ‘ajeeb’ standards. And these standards are backed by the government, as we have now serendipitously discovered.
It might be the duty of obligation for the government to promote tourism, but it certainly is not the duty of the government to drive down costs to suit visitors. That equation must be decided by market forces.
Goa, by the way, is a mixed market with cheap and expensive options easily available to visitors.
At the high end are those who can afford five-star stays and at the low end are those who cook in the open. Let everyone choose a holiday which suits his or her pocket the best.
And please stop asking taxi operators to subsidise other people’s holidays because no one in the tourism industry does that.