The new rates set out by the Transport Authority regarding taxi fares have been once again rejected by some drivers who have even called for protests against the new rates. However, they have been met by an equally angry response by the public this time, who believe that the taxi drivers are being unreasonable in the matter.
"We are not making trips to Hulhumale' for MVR 75. The prices will remain the same and if its too expensive, the bus is always there." This was the response of a taxi driver when asked about his views on the new rates by the Transport Authority.
The drama by the taxi drivers, who have become a "force" to be reckoned with has once again begun. On previous occasions, the government has bowed down to their demands which resulted in the government receiving mockery and criticism from the public, but this time enough may just be enough for the government.
Drivers have been setting the prices ever since the Sinamale' bridge opened and no rules or regulations by the government seem to bind them. No authority that can supervise and oversee them exists in their view.
The new rates by the Transport Authority state that trips between Male' and Hulhumale' are to be charged MVR 75. Trips to Hulhule from both islands are to be charged MVR 60 while trips inside Male' and Hulhumale cost the same as before, MVR 25. Trunk charges only apply after midnight.
Drivers' view on the new rates
These fare rates have been outright rejected by the drivers who are adamant on charging MVR 100 per trip between Male' and Hulhumale'.
The new regulations also compel drivers to use three government-approved apps for operations. But this has also run into a hurdle from the drivers who have criticized the fact that they are being forced to spend money on data for the apps. This is coming from people who earn significantly above the minimum wage. In the Maldives, Data is seen as a necessary expense by most people.
Some have gone so far as to call for protests against the rates and even stated that they will lock the trunks of the car to not allow passengers to use it. This is the level of taxi drivers.
The Driver's Association has submitted official complaints to the Transport Authority and parliament and has even asked the Civil Court for a temporary order to suspend the new regulations.
They have stated that the new regulations were issued without their consultations and that these were not the rates that were discussed with them. The drivers also stated that the new regulations would damage the business.
"We discussed rates of MVR 80 and MVR 90 with the government. This is not what we agreed for." A taxi center operator who spoke to the "Sun" said.
A transport authority official responded by stating that the only reason for the discussions was to solve the difficulties of the public and the rates were issued after considering both sides. The official also reminded that the power to decide the prices was in the hands of the government and not the drivers. The Transport Authority has stated that they do not plan on changing the new rates.
Not everyone in the business is against the new rates.
Some taxi centers have stated that they plan on complying with the new regulations and that the rates seem fair enough for both the public and the drivers. But then again, these are just some centers and some drivers of these centers have also stated that they do not plan on complying with these new rates.
Some centers have stated that they will keep charging their preferred rates for trips. "There is no taxi that is driven at the expense of the government. No matter what prices they set, our drivers will keep driving for MVR 100". said one taxi center.
Antics by drivers
There have been reports of disturbing actions by drivers after the new regulations were issued. One incident was reported where a driver took a passenger from Male' to the outskirts of Hulhumale' and demanded that an extra MVR 25 should be paid for trips inside Hulhumale since the trip on the bridge and highway cost MVR 75.
This is how far drivers are willing to go to earn MVR 100 per trip.
"The worst that can happen by charging more than the set amount is an MVR 750 fine. Our licenses cannot be held and the authorization to drive also cannot be revoked by law." said a driver.
The opinion of the public
"Taxi drivers think they are the only ones who work to make a living when they start protests every time they get a slight reduction in their earnings. What if the public comes out and starts protests by blocking the roads? what will they do then?." speaking to the "Sun", a woman standing at the bus stop said.
Taxi drivers complain that the current fare is too low for long trips such as one from IGMH in Male' to the Barbecue area in Hulhumale' but what they do not comprehend is the fact that they charge MVR 25 for a trip from Hulhumale' ferry terminal to ADK, which is an extremely short trip. That is acceptable to the drivers because it is the set price. Why? Because it brings them a profit. What they do not care about is the burden on the public.
"The driver and the passenger both have to pay rent, both have kids to send to school and other expenses. In business, it cannot always be one side who is making the rules and decisions. The opinion of both sides should be taken into account" a person on twitter said.
Most of the public and some centers even are satisfied with the new rates. The only thing that remains now is to see how the government handles this. If the government can hold its resolve then it will surely be the them who will have the last word on the matter.