Panaji: Months after Goa's tourist taxi drivers threatened an agitation over installation of digital metres, the cabbie community in the state may now go off the roads over an increase in licences granted to rent-a-car operators.
What started with the government last month notifying draft rules making it mandatory for the 7,000-odd tourist taxis in Goa to instal GPS-capable digital metres, has threatened to snowball into a major issue between tourist taxi drivers and rent-a-car operators.
"The rental cars are being let out illegally and because of which we do not get customers. Many of them have salaried jobs and are running the business," Vinayak Nanoskar, general secretary of the North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners Association, told a news agency.
He did not rule out a strike as an option.
Many of Goa's tourist taxis and their drivers have often been accused of over-charging, intimidating and operating in an unregulated environment.
Several attempts by the state government over the last decade to instal fare metres have failed, even as fights between taxi drivers and passengers over fare disputes are commonplace.
Some years back, a flare-up between a Russian travel operator and a local taxi owner resulted in the murder of the latter, sparking hostilities between locals and Russian tourists.
With taxi services unpredictable, unorganised and expensive, the formal introduction of rent-a-car services in Goa licenced by the state transport department caught on, especially for tourists, nearly three million of whom visit the state annually.
"It works for us. If one considers a weekend holiday in Goa, hiring a rent-a-car service saves you at least Rs 2,000 compared to taxis," says Ramesh Shah, a businessman from Mumbai and a regular visitor to Goa.
Ramdas Palkar, president of the North Goa Rent-a-Cab Associations, claims that renting out cars is as good and legitimate a business as any.
"We are sons of the soil as well and we too have stomachs to feed and loans to repay. Giving out cars on rent is one of the provisions of the central government's Motor Vehicle Act and Rules," Palkar said, arguing that the demand made by the tourist taxi operators to scrap their licences was bizarre.
Palkar said that due to pressure by the taxi operators, the transport department had already stopped giving permission for rent-a-car operations in north Goa, referring to an embargo on fresh rent-a-car permits imposed by the authorities last year.
"We are not asking that the government should allow everyone to start a rent-a-car business. Only those who were registered before the embargo on new licences, on permissions and renewals should be given," he added.
Assistant director of transport Uday Gauns said the arguments put forth by both sides were being looked into and that the impasse between the two warring sides would be resolved soon.
"We will ensure there is no strike. The dispute will be settled amicably," Gauns said.