Kathmandu:

Not all of us have our own car or bike or bicycle to ferry us around town. And using the public transportation system used to be convenient and easy. Until that is the fuel crisis hit Nepal big time. Now it is always a battle of the strongest and shrewdest to get a seat on the overpacked microvans and tuk-tuks.

Hailing a cab has always been a privilege of the so-called moneyed people. But now taxis have become super-luxury with people on streets eyeing those in taxis with a kind of

envy and parai ta kind of respect. Many of us have vowed that we will use a taxi only in two situations — going to or coming from the airport, and if we have to rush someone to a hospital.

The taxi fares have skyrocketed, and on top of that no two taxis’ meters will tally. If you have been travelling the same distance regularly, you never get the same taxi fare. It always varies. It’s either pay up or pay up after a huge amount of shouting and screaming duel with the taxi driver.

You are left with the feeling of really being cheated.

And when you are unfortunate enough to have to take a taxi, you tend to feel the driving making you feel obligated to him for having let you ride in his taxi. And most of the time, your eyes are on the meter that is just blinking away to three-figure digits.

Forty-year-old former armyman Surendra Nembang has been driving a taxi in the Valley for the last couple of years. He says, “It’s not us who decide the taxi fares and hike those. All this is done by the Nap Tol Bibhag (Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology at Balaju). They tell us how much has been increased and we charge

accordingly. We don’t get

to charge extra as they check and seal the meter and we annually go and renew our meter.”

However, the tampering of taxi meters is nothing new for anyone. And there have been times where the whole ‘checked and sealed’ meters go haywire and you shake your head to see if what you are seeing is actually the right fare.

It is said that drivers fix meter manipulator which is known as earthling or tsoosh which

is fixed either on the gear or next to break or on the door next to the driver. When the wire is touched, the meter just jumps like crazy.

“I am not aware of such a problem though I have heard about such a trick,” says Nembang.

Bishal Theeng, 30, from Hetauda, who has been driving taxi for three years says, “When our taxi organisation did not pay attention to our demand of increasing the fares, we had to hold strikes and even got arrested. Now at last Nap Tol Bibhag has increased the fare.”

He frankly admits that due to the scarcity, long queues for half-a-tank of petrol and black market (you can get petrol for Rs 150-200 here) has caused them to ask more than the already increased fare.

“We just ask 100 or 150 extra than the regular fare. If they want to travel, they will. We are not here to do any social service. We too have to get our earning,” he says.

But Theeng says that in an emergency, he don’t make a fuss about fare.

And both Theeng and Nembang seconded each other saying that taxi is only for the rich, and that they themselves trael by micros and tempos.

On the hike in fares, Mohan Koirala, Unit Chief (taxi tempo unit) Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology Balaju, says, “It’s not us who decide how much and when to raise the fares. The transportation department sends us the order about the price hike and we just implement the rule and send the notice,” adding, “While in a taxi, check if their seal is right as we seal according to the year. If the seal is expired, then you can lodge a complaint with us or the traffic police.”

About the meter tampering, he says, “We have heard about meter tempering

and manipulation. And if such cases (complaints) come to us, we take the needed action.”

Astronomical fares, tampered meters, drivers refusing to use the meters, charging Rs 100-150 more than

the usual fare... well as taxi drivers Nembang and Theeng said earlier taxis are just for the rich.

... Our say

I travel by taxi only in case of emergencies. For last three-four months I have not travelled by meter. I fix the fare beforehand. Even the shortest distance costs you around Rs 200, but I think that is okay as they (taxi drivers) are getting petrol in black.

— Priyanka Basnet,

18, student

It would have been easier for all if they had increased our salary along with price hike in products and services. I don’t mind paying extra or the high fare while travelling by taxi, but taxis today have become more of luxury than an emergency travel option.

— Rabina Maharjan, 27, student

Every morning we have fight with the taxi driver — either they ask more than the double of what is usually charged by meter or just refuse to travel short distance. So we find it better to walk the short distance — good exercise and even better for our mood. But in times of emergency, the whole situation gets pretty frustrating. It’s not that we don’t understand their problem and are willing to pay some extra cash, but demanding beforehand and not switching on the meter is irritating.

— Sonam, 37 and

Karma Doma, 38,

businesswomen

This hike in taxi fare has become quite difficult for me. I stay is such a place that there is no public transportation and I have to depend on taxis and they take a lot of advantage. They keep their own price range and act very arrogant. We don’t ride in a taxi just for fun. We too earn with much difficulty, and yes Rs 10-15 up-down due to jam and all is understandable, but some meters are too fast and some taxi drivers don’t even switch their meters on. We understand their problem but they have to be trustworthy as well.

— Doma, 45, housewife

(The males of the species approached for their comments said they had no taxi problem as all of them owned bikes.)