Almost every year for the past few years now, whenever the topic of taxis has come up in the media, it has always revolved around the fact that fares are too expensive and not regulated. Till now, there has not been a universally accepted solution, and not for lack of trying. Last year, there was a lot of buzz around the fact that meters were going to be installed in all taxis. In May last year, ItsGoa reported that the Government was in the process of testing digital meters and that tenders were soon to be awarded. With no outcome due to opposition from taxi drivers, the topic came up again this year in March, when the Government declared, as per a report in the Herald, that two agencies were selected to install digital meters in taxis. The reason for not implementing the digital meters at the end of the previous year? A change in the specification for Automotive Tracking Device. The officers were made aware of the new standard during a meeting with the International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT) and the Goa Electronics Limited held on August 20, 2018.
In the last two months, as the local taxi drivers went to war against the GTDC and Goa Government approved radio-based taxi service – Goa Miles, the topic of digital meters has come up yet again, and a new promise has been made. The reason for the ongoing battle is a debate that nobody can seem to get a handle on, especially since the local taxis were the ones who called for a Government approved, homegrown service as an alternative to Ola Cabs or Uber coming into the state. But the Government has given in – yet again. This time they have committed to having digital meters installed in all taxis by the end of the year. While the entire country is moving towards GPS enabled, app-based, transparent and tamper-proof solutions, the local Goan taxi driver and the Government is insisting on implementing a 20th-century solution, to a 21st-century problem.
A new deadline
The state government on Friday informed the High Court of Bombay at Goa that the installation of digital meters in tourist taxis will start from August 1. In order to make it mandatory, no new taxi licences will be awarded or renewed without the presence of a digital meter in the cab. As per the directive, a pilot batch of taxis will have meters installed between July 16 and July 31. The petition for the installation of these meters on priority was filed by the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa. The Advocate General has confirmed that the state transport authority has approved the minutes referred to in the order dated June 21, 2019. The minutes provide for the manner of implementation of automated tracking device with an integrated emergency system and fare meter in passenger taxis. The decision taken by the state transport authority in this behalf, which forms part of these minutes, outlines the manner in which the implementation would be carried out first on a pilot basis and later, after finalising the modalities, by installing devices in all motor cabs.
Once again, there is some semblance of hope for a regulated fare in local taxis here in Goa with the proposed implementation of digital meters, but there are some major concerns that have not been addressed.
- Who has been tasked with the contract for manufacture and installation of these meters? One of the major concerns brought by the local taxi drivers was that companies like Ola, Uber, and even Goa Miles were not Goan companies. That being said, are these digital meters engineered and manufactured by a Goan company in Goa?
- Will the working mechanism of these meters be made available in the public domain? App-based taxi services use Google Maps as a measure of distance, and price accordingly. This makes the system completely transparent to both driver and passenger. These new digital meters, on the other hand, are ambiguous. Do they rely purely on vehicle movement? Or are they based on some form of internal GPS? One of the inherent issues with non-GPS based meters is the fact that drivers can drum up a higher fare by taking a longer route. How will these meters counter that?
- What is the operating rate card? How much is the minimum fare, and how much is it per kilometre thereafter?
- How do passengers call for a cab? It may sound unimportant, but that is one of the major advantages of an app-based service – the ability to call for a cab whenever, wherever. How will a digital meter solve this issue?
- Does the digital meter come with the ability to produce a receipt? Many people who travel to Goa, especially for business, would like a record of their expenses. Are these digital meters equipped to provide printed receipts?
- The meters are digital, but are the payments also digital? With UPI and other digital payment systems becoming the norm, will passengers have the ability to pay their fare digitally as well? Or will local taxis continue to be a cash based system?
- Yet another inherent issue with digital meters is the option for taxi drivers to not use them. In the instance where a taxi driver tells a passenger that the ‘meter is not working’, what is the passenger’s alternative? Who do they complain to? What other modes of transport do they use? With app-based taxis, a passenger can simply call for another cab, and escalate the issue to the taxi company. With digital meters, however, these options are not available.
- Finally, how does a passenger know that the meter has not been tampered with? This is the biggest question of all, and the main reason why app-based taxis came to be. The fact that fares are pre-determined based on GPS mapping is the major selling point for companies like Ola and Uber, which allows the passenger to choose whether or not they want to take accept the ride. By paying for the ride in advance, they have the ability to leave the cab on arrival at the destination and avoid having to haggle with the taxi driver. One of the main downfalls of the meter system is that passengers do not know the fare until the end of the trip, hence they cannot budget accordingly. Additionally, drivers have been known to ask for more money in addition to the meter amount because the destination is ‘too far’ or ‘the road was not good’. How will this be countered by simply installing a meter?
The bottom line
Clearly, the installation of digital meters raises more questions than answers. The Government has given in to the demands of the local taxi drivers time and time again, and this time is no different. With the installation of these digital meters, there are more causes for concern than there are solutions for a problem that has plagued locals and tourists alike for years. It remains to be seen if the entire local taxi force will even implement the digital meters. And even if it does happen, there is no guarantee that these meters will be welcomed favourably, and used accordingly. Is this really the solution? Or is it just a very small stepping stone to a somewhat regulated taxi service, with an opportunity for a more transparent system in the future? Only time will tell.
What is your opinion on the digital meter system? Do you think that this is the solution that Goa needs? Or is this just a temporary fix? Let us know in the comments below.