Goa tourist taxis hit road block at Lusofonia Games (Goa Newsletter)

Panaji, Jan 23: Goa’s stature may have risen with the hosting of the ongoing Lusofonia Games – Portuguese equivalent of the Commonwealth Games – but the state’s tourist taxi operators claim their fortunes have taken a beating and the government says they alone are to blame.

Operators of the state’s 7,000-odd registered tourist taxis, backed by the influential Roman Catholic church, allege corruption in the tendering process. They express shock at the manner in which they were shunned and a fleet of 300 taxis and around 80 buses were hired from neighbouring Maharashtra to ferry officials and athletes for the event.

“We are alleging corruption. Tourism and such events are meant to create employment and business opportunities for the locals, but the e-tender was allotted to a taxi operation from Maharashtra. There is corruption involved here,” Fr. Maverick Fernandes, convener of the Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT), a Church-promoted social organization, has claimed.

Generally known for their notoriety in quoting exorbitant fares and disregard for government-installed meters, Goa’s tourist taxi fleet is mostly spread across its coastal areas.

Individuals like Vasudev Arlekar of the North Goa Taxi Operators Association claim that this fleet has been ignored while opting for cabs from the neighbouring state.

“There are over 800 athletes who have come here and they are put up at local hotels. They do not use our taxis because of the taxis brought into Goa from Maharashtra. For local taxi drivers, business has dropped considerably,” Arlekar told IANS.

The state transport department has, however, rejected the charges made by the CRT and the local taxi operators.

“The Request for Proposal (RFP) floated was an open e-tender for the supply of 400 cars and 100 buses. There was a special provision in the tender document under which any local vendor who could supply even 25 cars and 10 buses could apply,” Transport Director Arun Desai said.

The tender, he said was floated twice – in August 2013 and again in November 2013 – in all local newspapers but there was no response from the local taxi operators.

“We made every effort to invite bids from local vendors,” he said.

The transport director also said that most taxis in Goa are formally engaged on long haul terms with local hotels and that could have been the reason why they may not have signed up for the Lusofonia offer.

“Most local operators were reluctant to tie up with the selected vendor as vehicles owned by most of them are locally contracted to resorts and hotels in Goa on an ongoing basis,” Desai claimed.

The 12-day sporting event, which concludes Jan 29, features countries like Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and Sri Lanka, besides hosts India, whose athletes will compete in nine sporting disciplines: athletics, basketball, beach volleyball, football, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, volleyball and wushu.

The Lusofonia Games are in their third edition after Macau in 2006 and Lisbon in 2009.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)