Tourists wait with their luggage for taxis at Deorali in Gangtok on Tuesday. Picture by Prabin Khaling
Gangtok, May 22: The Sikkim capital has been grappling with a cab shortage for the past one month with taxis taking a detour to make a killing during the peak tourism season.
Around 1,000 taxis ply in and around Gangtok but most of them are hired by tourists to visit the places of interest nearby. Ever since the tourism season began in April, it’s the common people and office-goers who bear the brunt of the cab crunch.
“I have been waiting for a taxi for the past 20 minutes and I will reach office late. The rich and government officers travel in their own vehicles, but it is the middle class people who are facing the transport problem,” Nilu Shrestha, a government employee, said waiting for a cab at Tadong taxi stand.
Tadong is one of the 15 taxi stands along NH31A between Ranipool and Zero Point. Gangtok has 10 taxi stands where the yellow-roofed Maruti Omnis could be available.
Local commuters complain that even empty cabs whizz past them without a glance. “The town experienced taxi shortage in the last two tourism seasons also, but this time, the cabs have simply disappeared from the streets,” said an elderly person waiting for a cab at Indira Bypass.
The taxis have switched their routes to exploit the tourism season. The drivers are assured of a good amount if they take the visitors to places such as Banjhakri falls, Kanchenjungha park, Rumtek and Ranka monastery and Himalayan Zoological park — all located outside Gangtok.
“This is a peak tourism season; we get only two chances a year to earn good amounts. The earnings can be saved for the lean seasons. Plying to tourist spots is hassle-free as there are no traffic jams outside the capital,” said Ram Chettri, a taxi driver.
While the taxi fare ranges from Rs 10 to Rs 30 per person in Gangtok, the minimum charge for half-a-day tourist service is Rs 800. For a full day trip, the tourists have to shell out at least Rs 2,000 per taxi.
The fares for tourist service are fixed by the state government. The rules stipulate that a cab can carry only four persons (excluding driver).
Although Gangtok has 22 buses operated by the Sikkim Nationalised Transport, people don’t travel by them.
“We have hired out most of the buses to schools, private institutions and other agencies to carry students or employees as commuters in Gangtok do not prefer to travel in the SNT buses,” N.D. Rai, the general manager of the transport department.
The Deorali Taxi Drivers’ Association has denied that Gangtok is facing a cab crunch. “We keep at least 10 taxis at the stand for the local people. But the cars take time to come back because of traffic jams,” said Chung Chung Bhutia, the president of the association.