Tour and taxi cab operators continue to stare at a crisis situation, despite demand for travel from commuters resuming in a big way, as a substantial number of drivers opted for alternative job avenues following the pandemic-induced lull.
Mounting operational expenses owing to frequent rise in fuel prices have made matters worse, with many of them saying that the implementation of fare revision that the government approved on Wednesday, increasing minimum fare of taxis from ₹175 to ₹200, could be tricky in a competitive market where big fleet operators are willing to operate at a lower fare.
“The sector is facing a grave crisis, as over 50% of taxis went off the road, as compared to March 2020 when the pandemic was in its infancy. So much so that people were struggling to get cars during the Vishu-Easter festive season,” said Riyaz U.C., who owns a tour and travel agency in Kochi.
There is a need to gradually usher in confidence among taxi drivers and other stakeholders, so that they are bold enough to return to the field. The process could take up to two years. In their eagerness to slowly bring tourist footfall to the pre-pandemic level, most stakeholders are in a catch-22 situation, since any increase in fare could affect tourist arrivals, he added.
Shiyas C.A., treasurer of a city-based cooperative society that has over 350 taxi car drivers as members, said taxi drivers and those who operated a handful of cars were facing an existential threat, since online taxi aggregator firms have resumed operations at rock-bottom rates. “Drivers are left in the lurch, as the firms charge 26% to 40% as commission. Similar is the case with autorickshaw drivers, since a good section of passengers opt for online taxis whose rates are oftentimes comparable with those of autorickshaws. There is also a looming threat of big fleet operators undercutting government-approved rates and deploying drivers in two shifts to operate their cars 24x7 to woo corporate clients and commuters. In this situation, we may even be forced to block cars of such operators,” he added.
Drivers and taxi operators are banking hopes on ‘Yatri’ app of the Kochi Metropolitan Transport Authority (KMTA) to get fair remuneration for trips, since they need not pay commission to promoters of the app, said Mr. Shiyas.
On the plight of tourist taxi drivers, regional-level tour guide Shine Aroor said travel curbs and the uncertainty brought in by the pandemic had resulted in over 50% of drivers foraying into street vending and also taking up job as drivers of goods carriers where they earn good batta. Many others sold their cars to clear loans, he added.