Tuesday 20 August 2019

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How the Strike Backfired on Cabbies

 

The strike created a nationwide awareness about GoaMiles. It gave thousands of tourists and Goans a first-hand experience of how much more convenient, organised and pleasant an app-based taxi service can be



GoaMiles Taxies became known all over the country, thanks to the taxi owners' strike

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant must be congratulated. His tough stand finally forced taxi owners in Goa to call off their seven-day-long strike, after the CM “assured to look into their demands”. He accomplished something his predecessor – Manohar Parrikar – failed to do; confront Goa’s belligerent taxi owners.

Taxi owners kept their vehicles off the road since 2 August 2019 demanding that the government scrap the app-based cab service GoaMiles, which is backed by the state-run Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC). They didn’t count on two things – this was the off-season for tourists and, for a change, the Chief Minister of Goa was determined to take them head-on. 

A massive deployment of Kadamba buses, along with the GoaMiles app service blunted the force of the strike. In addition, a group of young, public-minded citizens set up a Facebook page called ‘Share Your Ride Goa’, which motivated ordinary citizens to offer rides to stranded tourists and coordinated the process. I will not take their names as I do not want angry taxi owners to hassle them. But it was a remarkable initiative.

When the strike failed to cause the chaos they had anticipated, the taxi owners threatened to surrender their permits en masse to the Transport Department. Unfazed, the government arrested 48 cabbies operating from Karmali Railway Station under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), and opened a separate dialogue with the black-and-yellow taxi union.

On Wednesday, the Black-and-Yellow taxi drivers announced that they would begin to operate the next day. They broke the back of the strike.

When he emerged from his meeting with the CM, President of the All Goa Taxi Association Chetan Kamat said that the Mr Sawant had assured to resolve all issues part by part, after holding discussions. When reporters specifically asked whether the chief minister has agreed to accept their main demand of scrapping GoaMiles, Mr Kamat evaded a direct reply. He said that the tourist taxi operators will not join GoaMiles and will continue to push for scrapping the government-backed app service.

These may seem like brave-sounding words, but it is clear to one and all that the taxi strike has failed. If anything, the assurance to “resolve all issues” after discussions is nothing less and nothing more than a face-saving fig-leaf formula.

However, this stalemate must be brought to a logical conclusion. Otherwise, we will see taxi owners going on strike again, maybe this time at the peak of the tourist season. Taxi owners have some grievances. Their main demands may be outrageous and illogical, but there are some genuine issues that the government needs to look at sooner, rather than later.

Taxi owners complain that GoaMiles cabbies are ‘outsiders’, and are depriving Goans of their livelihood. They are also opposed to abolishment of the ‘badge’ system, a special licence required to drive commercial vehicles. Third, they want a 15-year domicile made mandatory for all taxi drivers, to ensure that locals get employment.

The GTDC says that the overwhelming majority of GoaMiles taxi operators are Goans. There is no way of verifying this claim. But, if a 15-year domicile and knowledge of Konkani is introduced as an essential pre-condition for all taxi drivers, no one will be able to complain. A commercial driver’s ‘badge’ should also be made compulsory.

None of these demands by the taxi owners is unreasonable. The government must seriously and urgently look into them if they at all expect the taxi owners to wholeheartedly embrace app-driven systems or agree to operate by meter.

Over the course of the recent strike, Goa’s taxi owners have seen GoaMiles going from strength to strength. Far from weakening GoaMiles, the strike created nationwide awareness about it. It gave thousands of tourists and Goans a first hand experience of how much more convenient, organised and pleasant an app-based taxi service can be.

Now is the time for Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho and GTDC MD Nikhil Desai to take the initiative. They should seriously and sympathetically consider taximen’s demands that all taxi drivers (including the app-based ones) must have a 15-year domicile, have knowledge of Konkani, and a commercial ‘badge’. The condition should be that the taxi owners either join GoaMiles, set up an app-based system of their own, or begin to operate by meter.




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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

 

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