By Tashi Dendup
The covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary brake on the transportation and aviation industry, and taxi business has fared no better.
With increasing incidences of lockdowns across the country, especially in the southern Dzongkhags, taxi drivers have now started thronging the streets of Thimphu in a desperate bid to make a living.
The number of taxis operating in Thimphu, Paro and Punakha has seen a sudden surge with many from other Dzongkhags, especially Chhukha and Samtse, coming to Thimphu in an attempt to continue with their livelihoods as operating in their previous place was difficult.
Tashi Gyeltshen, a taxi driver in Thimphu, said many taxi operators from other Dzongkhags come here to earn some money due to frequent lockdown which makes the city crowded and on top of that there are fewer passengers. With lesser earning the taxi drivers are facing problems in paying loans, rents and buying groceries he said.
In addition, Thromde’s plan to purchase additional city buses has come as a huge challenge for the ever growing fleet of taxis in the capital and in towns like Paro and Punakha.
With increasing numbers of taxis in the city taxi operators said they face problems of inadequate parking spaces. The problem is further aggravated with the main City Bus stand standing just next to its main thoroughfare.
With only 36 permanent parking and nine standby taxi parking in the city, the 3000-odd taxis making rounds in the city causes also huge traffic jams.
Meanwhile, the recent revision of fares by the Bhutan Taxi Association, according to many operators, was not discussed nor was made known to most of them.
They said with the increasing rate of fuels and parking costs, they could hardly earn enough to meet their expenses. While there are incidences of government employees operating taxis, most of the taxi operators are privately-owned and are the sole bread earners.
Another taxi operator Tshegay said that if the association decreases the rate the income of the taxi driver will fall along with the association.
“If the association doesn’t support us how can we support the association? Each and everyone would say the same,” he said.
The chairperson of Bhutan Taxi Association, Rinzin Chopel, said the recent taxi fare reduction doesn’t apply to all taxi drivers.
“It only applies in our Taxi Counter Services which is for commuters who are willing to come for our services as the pandemic has changed some of the ways we operate business,” Rinzin said.
He said there are around more than 100 taxi drivers who have come forward to register under the Taxi Counter Service collaborating with Druk Ride. Among other benefits the counters ensure they don’t have to wait for the passengers unlike in normal taxi business.
Taxi drivers however have to pay the change of Nu. 50 when they get a trip to travel to other Dzongkhags. The main objective of the Taxi Counter Service is to benefit the public he said.
Commuters traveling via Bhutan Taxi Service counters will be charged a lesser fare compared to individual operators who still follow the RSTA fare rules which are comparatively higher.
Regarding inadequate parking spaces in the capital, the Bhutan Taxi Association is reallocating parking spaces for taxis to 24 different zones within Thimphu.