SIKKIM: Only-tourist cab snub for Gangtok – SDF Govt to now capitalize on this ‘self-created’ shortage by launching local lines – but naturally ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, June 10: The yellow roofed cabs have disappeared from Gangtok. Long queues of exasperated commuters have replaced them at the taxi stands at Ranka, Tadong, Vajra, Deorali, Ranipool, Syari and Tathangchen. Most of the points are on NH31A.
For the past two months, the people of Gangtok have been grappling with acute cab shortage. But once outside the town, the shining local cabs can be seen swishing past or idling away waiting for tourists.
With surplus visitors, good rates for ferrying them, and roads without traffic jams as most of the tourist points — like Banjakhri Falls, Tashi View Point, Himalayan Zoological Park and Ranka monastery — are outside the town, the taxis have switched routes. They are more outside the town, than inside.
Tourists bring quick money. “It means we can save for the lean season. That is why we try to earn as much as possible during tourist season,” said taxi driver Vikash Chettri. While local rates range from Rs 5 to Rs 25 for each person, the minimum charges for half-day tourist service is Rs 700. For a full day, a visitor has to shell out at least Rs 1500. According to state government norms, taxis can carry only four passengers, tourists or otherwise.
And thanks to an incredible season, more than 2 lakh tourists visited Sikkim in the first five months and most of them passed through Gangtok to visit Nathu-la and Chhangu Lake in East Sikkim or to go to North Sikkim.
According to the tourism department, 2,36,312 domestic tourists visited Sikkim till April end with an arrival of 87,172 tourists in that month alone. Similarly, 9,538 foreigners visited Sikkim till May.
During their stay in Gangtok, most tourists go for local sighting in the hired taxis. The demand for local cabs have shot up with the Nathu-la-Chhangu Lake-Baba Mandir circuit becoming inaccessible because of landslides along the Gangtok-Nathu-la Road. Only SUVs can travel on these routes.
Most of the taxi stop points are located along the national highway from Ranipool to Zero Point. Local commuters complain that even empty cabs whiz past without as much as a glance. “In the past two tourism seasons, there was taxi shortage in town but this time, the taxis have simply disappeared,” said a student waiting for taxi near Tadong Government College.
Transport secretary S.D. Basi said keeping in mind the local commuters’ plight spawned by tourism growth, his department has put 24 buses on the road under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
Transport officials here said that they were trying to convince the various taxi syndicates to keep at least 50 percent of their fleet in the respective stands for the local people.
There are around half a dozen taxi drivers associations in Gangtok who ply their vehicles on the Ranka, Tadong, Vajra, Deorali, Ranipool, Syari and Tathangchen routes.
Deorali taxi drivers association president Chungchung Bhutia said most of the associations keep part of their vehicles at their stands. “We keep at least 10 taxis at the stand for the local commuters but these taxis take time to go back because of traffic jams,” he said.
The transport department is also mulling to release a new fare chart. The last fare was fixed in 2006.
According to records of the motor vehicles’ division of the transport department, there are 3,507 local taxis in Sikkim. The number for Gangtok is not clear. But around 1,500 ply in and around the hill town.
Transport officials also said the shortage of cabs could be because registration of new taxis in Gangtok has stopped since December 2009 to control the number of vehicles. The the registration will start only after December 2011.