Panaji: The Joshi family from Pune had only heard about the Goa carnival. But when they actually came to Goa last week to see one, all they animatedly discussed during the colourful parade was the Rs.2,000 they paid the cabbie for the ride from Calangute to Panaji - just 18 km.
"How can you say Goa is a great place for tourists when one is robbed by taxi drivers every day? They don't even need guns to steal this kind of money," said Utpal Joshi, whose family bargained its way through the carnival week, haggling with cabbies instead of soaking in the fun.
A powerful lobby, which has failed to heed regulation and with muscle enough to browbeat political will, overcharging and unruly taxis are as much a bane to tourism in Goa as the narcotics-festooned nightlife along the coastline.
No charge-by-meter, no rate cards, no uniform fares... taxis, the first interface with tourists, aren't exactly the best role models for the coastal state famed for its beaches.
But taxi operations could soon be in the right 'lane' if one believes the fresh noises being made by tourism industry stakeholders and the ruling political establishment.
"We need a tourist taxi policy. Metering of taxis is a must," an official of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), an authoritative voice of Goa's tourism industry over the last three decades, told IANS, not wishing to be identified.
Officially, if you hire a cab, you need to pay Rs.14 for the first kilometre and Rs.12 for every subsequent kilometre. But in reality, most tourists, even locals, suffer the fate of the Joshi family by paying 10 times the official fare, especially during peak season or festive times.
Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) president Manguirish Pai Raikar calls it "getting away with murder".
"For years now taxi operators have got away with murder. Sometimes, for even the smallest of distances within Panaji, they charge more than Rs 300, which is almost unreal," Raikar said.
"The government has to insist on meters. This is a tourist place, but that does not mean you fleece them like this? Taxi drivers are supposed to be the brand ambassadors of Goa, but they are the ones who virtually put the tourists off the moment they land in Goa," he said.
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has promised the industry to do something. And soon.
"I will see to it that anyone (taxi drivers) taking law in his own hands will be put behind bars... We are thinking of making meters compulsory," Parrikar told a delegation of tourism industry stakeholders recently.
Attempts by the state transport department to install global positioning system (GPS) devices in cabs last year came a cropper after none of the 6,000-odd cabbies operating in Goa cooperated.
Whether Parrikar delivers his promise to rein in Goa's cabbies before the 2013-14 tourist season remains to be seen.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)