Oiling the wheels: Goa pushes to reform its much-reviled taxi services

The BJP government vows to bring in Uber and Ola to get the taxi unions to fall in line.

It’s “a good effort to eradicate loot”, claims one post. Says another, “Goa needs this change.” Agrees a third, “The taxi mafia must be ended.”

Ever since an online campaign called the Taxi Revolution in Goa launched its Facebook page in April, it has been flooded with demands for the state’s inefficient cab service to be regulated. As visitors to the state well know, taxis in Goa are plagued by arbitrary rates. Customers have to pay return fare even if they take a one-way journey.

“Whenever I have to go to the airport, I have to rely on family and friends to drop me off since taxi rates are so exorbitant,” said Mahesh Bharve, who helps run the campaign. “Sometimes I have no option but to pay what they ask.”

The Taxi Revolution is among the various groups that has been urging the government to allow app-based taxi services such as Uber and Ola to operate in the state – a move that the powerful taxi unions have blocked so far. In 2014, they even went on strike to protest a proposal to license app-based cabs.

Since cabs are the main mode of transport for visitors, Goa’s tourism industry is especially keen that the system should be rationalised. At least two major state dailies are also supporting this demand. But even as alternatives are being discussed, the state’s political parties are treading warily, eager to avoid angering the powerful tourist taxi unions.

Taxi union leaders have sought the help of the powerful Goa Forward Party ministers in the coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Aam Aadmi Party has sounded support for the taximen, while Congress state chief Luizinho Faleiro said the government cannot take a unilateral decision without consulting all stakeholders.

The BJP-led regime is not particularly keen on Ola and Uber operating in the state either. Instead, it is pushing for a local app-based system, to be run by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation. However, in its attempt to gain some leverage, it has threatened to allow Uber and Ola to operate in the state if the the unions refuse to submit to regulation.

In a jam

Goa has 500-odd black and yellow cabs, about 4,500 auto-rickshaws and 1,340 black and yellow motorcycle taxis (called “pilots”), which are preferred by the residents. In the mid-1980s, as tourism boomed, tourist taxis were introduced to supplement the inadequate public transport, and give farmers and other people displaced by tourism projects a stake in the industry. Currently, there are nearly 13,500 tourist taxis, all privately owned.

Indiscriminate granting of permits each year has led to oversaturation, with more drivers chasing fewer tourists. Goa’s tourist demographic has shifted in recent years with the more affluent West European visitors thinning out and East European and domestic tourists growing in number.

In 2014, the state’s transport department fixed taxi fares – Rs 14-Rs 22 per km for small cars, Rs 72-Rs 146 per km for luxury cars. But these rates do not reflect the reality that taxis charge return fare even for one-way journeys. So, instead of Rs 400-Rs 550, a 26-km ride from Dabolim airport to the capital Panaji, for example, costs Rs 850. Similarly, a trip from the tourist hub of Calangute to Dabolim airport, a distance of 38 km, costs Rs 1,100.

A motorcycle taxi stand in Goa. Photo credit: Wikipedia
A motorcycle taxi stand in Goa. Photo credit: Wikipedia

For people living in Goa, their views of the taxi services are largely informed by their personal experiences. Many are non-committal on the subject because they no longer use the erratic, overcrowded public transport or the expensive cabs but drive their own two-wheelers and cars.

“It is true that some taxis even charge Rs 250 for short distances,” said Gunjan Pandey, who runs Pandey Bar and Restaurant on Palolem beach in South Goa. “It all depends on what you negotiate and is flexible. But if the government is trying to regularise the fares, then it should be fair to all sides, the tourists and the cabbies.” She pointed out that local taxi drivers are her “stakeholders”, bringing customers to her establishment, so she is invested in their well-being.

But engineer Avinash Tavares supports the introduction of an Uber-style car-pooling system. “Goa has to have a reliable taxi service that can be hailed on radio or by app,” he said. “Things have to change as the current lot of taxi drivers do not want to address these issues.”

Roland Martins, an activist with Goa Consumer Rights, argued that the entire system needs to be fixed. “The lack of a functional public transport system is the crux of the problem,” he said. “Taxis are just a symptom. Transportation in Goa is such a lucrative trade that there are a lot of private cars that operate without licence or insurance, including a sizeable number that are run by government employees and hired by government departments for a sizeable profit and cut.”

Tough ride

Taxi drivers, however, claim that their fares reflect the cost of operation. “People think tourist taxi owners make a lot of money,” said Ulhas Kerkar, 58, a taxi driver in Panaji. “I have been driving my car for 25 years and I still live in a rented house. At best we can support a family on these earnings, nothing more. There is a lot of propaganda against us but who wants to know the truth? People say we overcharge but the truth is that we are not even able to get the government-approved rates from passengers.”

Goa’s taxis and auto-rickshaws do not have fare meters. Successive governments have tried to rectify this, to no avail. In 2015, the state amended the Goa Motor Vehicles Rules to make installation of digital meters and GPS tracking systems a prerequisite for granting permits but postponed its enforcement three times before finally holding it in abeyance ahead of the 2017 Assembly election.

The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa has now gone to court to compel the government to implement the rules. The tourism trade body also wants taxis to use “modern app-based systems” for operations, arguing that the current “inefficient system” was harming the state’s tourism sector and hampering its growth.

Taxi drivers said they are not opposed to meters as such. “But meter pulsing should reflect the variable rates for micro cabs and luxury AC sedans,” said Subodh Tari, a driver where. “The government should first ensure that private cars operating illegally without permits are stopped.”

Adding to the licensed taxi drivers’ woes apparently are informal taxi services run by individuals from their homes “for co-villagers and outstation friends”. They must also compete with nearly 27,000 private scooters and motorcycles for hire.

But more than anything, taxi drivers are opposed to cab aggregators. “We will not join a cab aggregator,” Kerkar said. “If they come in we will stop plying our cabs. The government should then give all 12,000 of us employment.”

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.