Due to COVID-19 and large job losses, a large number of people have started taking up Professional Driving (PD) courses leaving the full time taxi drivers with minimal business scope.
As of 30 June 2020, Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA)issued more than 125,041 ordinary driving licenses and 19,673 PD licenses. Their figure also states that they have registered 109,663 motor vehicles, with Thimphu being the highest with 57, 697 vehicles.
The Chairman of Taxi Association, Rinzin Chophel said that the impact of COVID-19 has been huge on them and drivers who solely earn from taxi are at an disadvantage due to the increase in number of taxis. “People who lost their jobs to COVID-19, especially those from tourism sector, are now into the taxi business. Moreover, 698 civil servants do part time taxis and this leaves full timers with less scope,” he said.
He said that since they have the opportunity to earn a limited income from taxi business, they do not get Kidu. However, for those from tourism sector they get Kidu of Nu 12, 000 per month and they are given a few more opportunities.
“Nevertheless, they want to come into the taxi business which indirectly has a lot of impact on full time taxi drivers,” he added.
Meanwhile, he said that they have requested government and RSTA to look into the ratio and see how many taxis are actually needed in each Dzongkhag. “I feel that if they can do the study and approve just the exact required number yearly, then there may not be an issue. Today, the number is getting out of control whereby a minimum of 30 taxis come into the market every month,” he said.
From 5 driving training institutes in Thimphu, more than 1,200 people take PD courses in a year and being a business, the institutes provide the courses. The same is happening in Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Bumthang.
However, he said that the taxi association is now certified as a Civil Society Organization (CSO) and they are now planning to coordinate all the PD courses themselves as they will know how many taxis are required each year.
In today’s scenario, no one is benefitted due to huge number of taxis and minimal passengers, he said, adding that they sometimes face difficulty in paying their monthly loans. They also face other related challenges like parking issues and not being able to maintain social distancing.
On the other side Tshering Ngyeldrup, a guide, said that he is left with no option but to take a PD course to sustain in Thimphu.
There is less job opportunities in the market and it is going to take some time for tourism to resume in the country, he said, adding that driving a taxi would be the best choice for the long run.
He said, “I do not want to keep getting Kidu as there would be many who needs more than me. So I can withdraw from the Kidu when I start earning from taxi. It would be challenging but it is worth trying for my family.”
He also said that he did not register for Build Bhutan Project (BBP) because there are many in the tourism industry who cannot drive and they can grab that opportunity. Moreover, after registering, if tourism resumes, it would be another issue to withdraw after signing a contract, he added.
Another guide Karma Tenzin said that he is doing a small business which is not really sufficient for his family to sustain and for that reason he decided to take PD course so that he can drive taxis to earn adequate income along with his business.
“It is to improve my driving skills and also I can drive a taxi in future if the situation does not get better for the next few months or years. I did not register for BBP because I did not want to occupy a slot unnecessarily,” he said.
Guides who are taking the PD course said that once tourism industry resumes in the country, everything will be back to normal and a full time taxi driver can than earn well like before.
They said for now, the situation is same for everyone and a bit of impact in such a situation should be acceptable for the regular taxi drivers.