KATHMANDU: Better late than never and even though
NTY-2011 is over, any effort to improve Nepal as a serious and attractive destination for tourists is always welcome. Now tourists arriving at Nepal’s only international airport may get a better first impression if things are allowed to go as planned. Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) plans to take the bold and much awaited step to replace the existing old taxis — some of which have been in operation for over 20 years (and in most countries considered over ripe even for the junkyard)
— with new ones by mid-May.
The TIA management plans to replace the green plated taxis, which number 170, with 300 new prepaid taxis and relocate the
parking bay. Prem Nath Thakur, chief, corporate division of TIA, informs that TIA will use the two hectares of land at the peripheral area of the airport, which has been unused for many years, for this purpose. The land is located outside the TIA
golden gate and within the ring road. According to regulations, the new taxis will be charged Rs 4,000 each for the parking space for the first three months. “We have guesstimated to collect ann-ual revenue of Rs 3.6 million from parking charges for 300 taxis at the airport,” says Ratish Chandra Lal Suman, general manager of TIA.
Commendable as this initiative is, like all things else, it will not be easy to implement and could run into adversity and get politicised.
Difference of opinion
The first and foremost argument against the introduction of new taxis is about their number. Arjun Gautam, president of Nepal Meter Taxi Entrepreneurs Association (NMTEA), explains, “We have reservations regarding the introduction of 300 new taxis in the airport area. While the initiative has to be appreciated, our argument is that the number being replaced should be at par with the existing ones.”
Informing that there are already 7,000 taxis in operation within the valley alone, he further states, “Adding more taxis will only augment and worsen the already existent traffic problem.” However, the argument does not hold much weigh. “Due to the increase in number of tourists arriving in the country, we planned to bring 300 new prepaid taxis and not just replace the 170 existing ones. We believe that this increase in the quantity will help tourists at the airport. Moreover, we have to see that these taxis help create a positive impression of Nepal for tourists who have just arrived in the country,” says Thakur.
Another issue on which TIA management and taxi entrepreneurs differ is on what is to happen to the existing taxis. Gautam opines that the old taxis should be transported to remote areas of the country. However, Thakur says, “The old taxis will either be given to junkyards or destroyed as they are more than 20 years old and would not be allowed to operate anywhere in the country.” Gautam may have one of his opinions heeded to though — for the new taxis to have the same number plate, meaning the owners can replace the existing taxis with new ones. Purusottam Simkhada, president of the Airport Air Passenger Transport-ation Service Management (AAPTSM), says, “The 170 new prepaid taxis might have the same number plate of the existing old ones and others will have new number plates. But before taking any
actions, we will plan it thoroughly with TIA management, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) and other tourism entrepreneurs.” According to him, once the agreement is signed with CAAN and TIA, operations will begin as soon as possible.
Clearing the air
Heeding to questions about the tender filing, Prem Nath Thakur, chief corporate division of TIA, informs, “Due to TIA’s strict criteria, only three private firms had filed for tender processing. After careful evaluation, CAAN finally awarded the tender for the operation of new prepaid taxis to AAPTSM as they best suit
the TIA management criteria.” The two other private companies were Tribhuvan Airport Transport Entrepreneurs Association and Tribhuvan Airport Tourism Transport Driver and Entrepreneur Association (TATTDEA).Suman says, “TIA management announced the tender, which was open to different private firms in March and the submission deadline was on April 1. Now the
selected firm has to bring the 300 taxis within six months — 150 taxis within three months of signing the memorandum and the rest within the remaining three months period.”
TATTDEA had also filed for the tender but were not chosen by CAAN. Chakra Bahadur Shrestha, vice president of TATTDEA, says, “We were given seven days to approach CAAN officials if we were not happy with the decision. But we are satisfied with CAAN’s decision as it will most definitely benefit the airport, the drivers and the passengers. They will have full support from us.”
Due to the price hike in petroleum products, Shrestha also informs that at present metered taxis charge Rs 30 per kilometre and prepaid taxis charge exactly double for the same.
Setting the bar high
TIA’s criteria for the new taxis show professionalism and that it means business and wants genuine changes. Apart from mandating uniform and ability to speak English for taxi drivers, the taxis will also have a
standardised colour. “The firm that has won the bid to bring in new taxis is responsible for ensuring that taxi drivers meet the set criteria and train those who are not up to the mark,” says Thakur. Also, the manufacturing date of the new taxis should not exceed five years. Moreover, TIA also plans to install a two-way radio system in each of the taxis to facilitate communication with the drivers.
Thakur says, “We plan to establish a monitoring committee soon to maintain a monitoring mechanism for taxi drivers. They will only be allowed to carry passengers from the airport to the destination. However, if a driver is transporting a passenger from the airport to a hotel, then he can bring another passenger from the same hotel back to the airport, but he is not allowed to transport passengers mid-way.”
Old story, new spin
Appreciating this effort put forth by the TIA management and CAAN, Bhola Bikram Thapa, president of President Travels recalls, “When I was a member of CAAN, we wanted to replace the old airport taxis around nine years ago. But this plan
did not see the light of day due to TIA management’s
financial problems and high import taxes on vehicles, which is still one of the highest in the world.” The government made a rule some eight or nine years ago that if old cars — that are more
than 20 years old from their manufacturing date — were destroyed, there would be deduction in import duty when buying a new vehicle. “However, our government is infamous for making rules but not implementing any,” he says. He also highlights the need for each taxi driver to be provided with proper training and a sense of ownership. “This is the one way to motivate them to give their best,” he shares.
Citing examples of taxis in Singapore and Bangkok, where drivers are well behaved, trained, neatly dressed with proper identity cards, Thapa opines, “If managed properly, prepaid taxis could be the best med-ium for providing hassle free transportation to tourists. Well dressed and trained
drivers will give a positive impression on tourists’
arriving in the country.”