Increasing the number of taxis brings forth different viewpoint
Having overlooked the problem of shortage of taxis in Kathmandu valley for more than a decade, the government is finally preparing to add 2,850 new taxis in phases to the existing 5,600 units. The question in consumers minds is just why the government has controlled the number of taxis instead of opening the market to more players and open competition which will benefit the general public. However, despite offering protection to existing players, even this endeavour by the government is being met with stiff opposition. The sad fact is that not enough homework has been done by the government and it does not seem to have a clear stand on policy leave alone making it effective.
Back in 2000, the government had actually even banned the registration of new taxis declaring that the then existing 7,500 taxis would be sufficient. In the present context the number of taxis has fallen sharply while the population in the valley has grown by more than double.
Burdened by malpractices
“The government has been talking about replacing the 20-year old taxis and we have agreed to it despite a huge loss,” said Arjun Gautam, President of the Nepal Meter Taxi Entrepreneurs’ Association (NMTEA). He stated, “We disagree with the government’s decision to replace the old number plates with new ones as we think that replaced number plates will find their way into the market through corrupt channels.”
According to him, though the government has said that the scrapped number plates will not be used again, they do not believe, as officials at the transport department and the system allows malpractices. As expected he states, “We object to the addition of new taxis because there are enough taxis in the valley and adding new ones would not only mean a hassle for parking space but it would also make it difficult for current operators to eke out a living,” he stated.
NMTEA is ready to upgrade the standard of the taxis and its services but expects government support. According to Gautam, the government should confine itself to managing and maintaining the already existing taxis by upgrading quality and raising awareness among passengers about the correct use of the metre system. He claimed that tampering with metres has also lessened by almost 90 per cent and would sooner be completely done off with if the concerned department monitors it more effectively.
Demand versus supply
Despite NMTEA’s tall claims that Kathmandu valley has enough taxis, the government is determined to add a fixed number of more taxis. “The government felt the necessity to address the problem caused by the insufficient number of taxis in the Bagmati zone. The public is harrowed by the shortage and the necessity for more taxis becomes apparent in times of emergency,” said Tulasi Prasad Sitaula, Secretary of Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT). According to him, the preparation process is underway to bring in new taxis whereas the replacement of the old ones has alreadystarted.
The government also decided to scrap the old number plates and issue new numbers to the new taxis for proper management and monitoring. He stressed on the fact that if the scrapped taxi plates are found in use the government will take action accordingly. As for the ongoing taxi operator’s protest, he said, “They are against the government’s decision as they would not be able to make profit out of the old taxis which are leased out for up to three shifts a day.” According to him, NMTEA earlier protested even when tampering of metres was put to a stop. These protests, according to him, are merely ways of protecting their interest and hindering the government’s work.
According to Sitaula, MoPIT has set the minimum standard for new taxis to be of at least 800 CC. Among the 2850 new taxis to be added, 1850 taxis are with minimum 800 CC engines. Likewise, an extra 500 have been allocated to support earthquake-affected cab drivers and another 500 deluxe cabs will be introduced with minimum 1200 CC engines. The latter ones will have air conditioned compartments.
Citing that there is a need to improve public transport as it directly affects the environment, tourism and development, Shekhar Golchha, President of Nepal Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) said, “It is necessary to add upgraded taxis and the government should set the minimum standard only. The maximum standard should be open.” According to him, it should be left to taxi owners to decide any standard of taxis they want to run, however, they should have to maintain the minimum set standard. He stated, “The market for taxis should be open to fair competition to ensue competition among companies manufacturing these taxis. This will, in turn, eradicate monopoly in the market.”
“The government’s decision to add new taxis and replace the old ones is a positive sign which will hopefully put an end to the syndicate system and its monopoly,” said Baburam Humagain, General Secretary of the Forum for Protection of Consumers’ Rights. He further said, “There should be proper management of taxi services, which is totally lacking at the moment — end bargain system, metre problems. Customers should get a bill of the payment they make and drivers should display their identification card along with rate of the taxi fare per kilometre.”