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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

An Open Letter: Revise taxi fares


Covid-19 is at rest. Not entirely, but by the grace of God, my siblings can go back to school, I can report to office daily, my immediate neighbours can get back to the construction buisness, and my teachers can have one-to-one interaction with their students within the four walls of a room, my friends from the music fraternity can hold mini-concerts, movie lovers can head to the cinema halls again, and my next-door couple can fly to Paris for their honeymoon.

Aren’t these the things that we have all dreamt of in the past two years? We wanted a normal life; we got it. We want to go out and see the world we’ve seen forever. It’s right before our eyes now. This is when we can say that normalcy has been restored, not completely, but partially. As the rank and file of the state of Meghalaya, we adhere to all protocols laid down and set by the government.

We follow them meticulously and we question the wrongdoings. We complain if there are any misleading affairs. At the ab initio, I want to thank you and your department for having listened to the grievances of the taxi drivers’ association back in the days, especially at the peak of Covid-19 and consequently when the petrol price was at its highest . They took to the streets; they had meeting after meeting with the office of the Deputy Commissioner and the Transport Department to alert them of their grievances.

Not once, not twice, but many times, they were turned a deaf ear, but eventually, their demands were met, and they happily drove back to their jobs.

Mr. Transport Minister, could you please listen to the complaints of the common people, the daily commuters on public transport, and the students this time? I shall be forever grateful to you if you do so.

The hike in taxi fares happened due to Covid restrictions and subsequently due to the rise in fuel prices. As a common citizen, I do understand the stand taken by the department, and we do need to understand this. In pre-Covid era taxis (Maruti-800 and Alto) were allowed four passengers in the back and a passenger with the driver in the front.

During Covid, there were two, and subsequently, three passengers behind, and one passenger and the driver in the front. The rates were different in both cases, and it is totally understandable. At present, when a taxi embarks with four passengers at the back and one in the front, from Motphran to Dhankheti, he charges Rs 30 each. Another, with three passengers at the back and one in the front, between the same places, also charges Rs 30 each. If I am to travel from Mothpran to Police Bazar, he charges me Rs 20. I fail to understand this. There are a few drivers who have asked me for Rs 40 from Motphran to Dhakheti with full capacity.

I asked him for the government notification stating the fare. I had the voice, and I raised it. I am wondering what about the others who don’t, and how about the other innocent commuters exploited by a few corrupt drivers? I remember an incident when an Assamese tourist boarded a local taxi from St. Edmund’s to Barik Point and was charged Rs 60.

However, the local taxi driver couldn’t get the desired amount from his passenger because of my presence, and I asked the tourist to pay only Rs 20. Aren’t these drivers taking advantage of the general public and tourists? I understand there’s inflation everywhere, and I also understand there’s a hike in petrol price too.

But shouldn’t they also understand us? Where’s equality here? People with secured jobs will have no problem paying Rs 30 for a journey to the Governor’s House from Motphran, but a daily wage labourer does. I request your esteemed office and department to kindly amend the current rates of taxi fare.

Another one has definitely taken me back to the time when I was working and touring the state of Punjab in 2019.

I had the privilege of commuting to different villages and hamlets, as well as cities and towns in the state of Punjab by a different means of transport, but the most frequented one would always be by bus. I vividly remember when I boarded a bus from Ghanie Ke Bangar to Fathegarh Churian, a distance of not less than 12km, I paid only Rs 25, and students boarding the bus to reach Fathegarh Churian were not at all charged. Students would choose to commute on government buses to and from the school for the same reason. They get free rides. On the contrary, they only pay half the rate if they board a private bus.

Shouldn’t Shillong buses be encouraged to do the same? If such an initiative were taken, I am confident that students would be drawn to take bus rides instead of cars, which would help them and their parents in many ways. In Shillong, students are not at all being treated as students. Even on buses, they are being charged the full amount. Let’s not talk about taxis.

Yesterday , after office hours, my colleague and I took a taxi with three passengers in the back and a vacant seat in the front. I informed the driver that there were two of us, and he offered us to get in. I took the front seat, and my colleague took the rear one. Four passengers had to squeeze in for a twenty-minute drive from Dhankheti to Police Bazar.

A minute after I sat, I asked the driver if we were to pay Rs 20 since there were four at the back, to which he said, “Ai beit Rs 30 shi khlieh, lane hiar noh hangne hi” (Pay Rs 30, or get out). To this minute, I am still wondering if this fellow threatened me.

Or was he telling me otherwise? I don’t understand. I deserve the right to know, and we the people, the general public, are at a loss as to the genuine rates of taxi fares. Different drivers heading to the same destination charge differently. Please educate me or educate them, or tell me if I am wrong, or if they are wrong.

To sum up my observations and opinions, I want your respected department and your office to kindly reconsider revising the rates of taxi fares, thus helping the general public.

Emidao Shylla

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