On July 9, government spokesperson Yubaraj Khatiwada had announced the Cabinet decision to resume the services of local public vehicles, including taxies, by adhering to health and safety protocols. According to new rules, apart from the driver, only two passengers and a child below the age of five, if from the same family, are to be allowed in the taxi. The same provision applies now that the odd-even number system is gone with the lifting of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Following the July 9 announcement, taxi services resumed. With most public busses still out of operation, the taxi drivers should have benefitted, but that was not the case. Taxis are still short of passengers.
Fasta Bahadur Magar, 34, from Bhaktapur who started his taxi service a couple days after the Cabinet decision, is despondent. “Before, I used to get 4-5 trips a day but now it is one or two trips,” he explains. “Many people prefer take to foot if their destination is within 30-40 minutes walking distance”.
Mohan Shrestha, 42, from Maitidevi, another taxi driver, had been waiting for six hours for his first passenger when APEX caught up with him. Shrestha does not expect things to drastically improve so long as the airport is not back in full operation and hotels restaurants don’t reopen.
Similarly, Rinjing Sherpa, 34, a taxi driver from Boudha, states, “Now, I am earning Rs 600-700 a day. Deducting petrol, maintenance, and owner’s share, I earn Rs 200 a day. How can I run my household on such a meager income?”
For his part, says New Buspark’s Dipak Bhattarai, 33, “Neither can we charge according to our will, nor do we get passengers. Things are difficult.” On the first day after the end of the nationwide lockdown, Bhattarai had made two trips till 2:30 pm, which was “a great improvement from the previous days yet hardly back to normal.”
As regards health and safety measures, all four taxi drivers keep hand sanitizer in their vehicles. They also claim to only allow passengers who are wearing masks, and request them to use sanitizer before entering their taxi. “When someone, in a rare case, comes without a mask I ask him/her to buy a medical mask, otherwise I refuse to go,” adds Shrestha.
They are also asking the government to revise fares. The old rates are outdated, they complain.
Both Sherpa and Magar say the taxi owners have been supportive. They have waived off the daily fixed charges drivers owe the owners. Whatever is left is shared on a 50-50 basis.
In the case of the drivers who own their taxis, loan installments are a headache. “Resumption of taxi services has given banks and house owners an excuse to collect their dues from us,” says Shrestha. He was unaware of the recent Nepal Rastra Bank monetary policy that plans on easing loan payments for those hit by Covid-19. When informed about the policy, he replied, “Our government is quick with plans, but always fails in implementation.”
Thousands of taxi drivers make—there are around 11,000 taxies in Kathmandu valley—depend on daily wages to earn their livelihood. Most of them are struggling to make their ends meet.