Taxi drivers voiced opposition to lowering the fare for crossing the Sinamalé bridge at a public forum Tuesday night amid calls for introducing meters.
The public consultation forum was held after drivers went on strike in protest against the transport ministry’s aborted decision to enforce a fixed rate of MVR40 (US$2.5) for a trip from Malé to the airport island and the capital’s suburb Hulhumalé.
Taxis were allowed to continue charging MVR100 as the transport ministry stopped using undercover police and penalising drivers until rules made by the previous administration could be reviewed.
The move drew criticism as the public objected to the settled price and many commuters resumed using the ferry.
Most of the speakers at Tuesday night’s forum were taxi drivers who defended the MVR100 fare, citing high living costs, poor road conditions and worsening traffic congestion.
“Some 95 percent of drivers who are here now manage their lives through what they earn from taxis. Paying rent, electricity bills and food for our wives and children. So we are unable to make ends meet,” said one man.
“If we face a sudden problem with the car, we are forced to borrow from someone to repair it so that we can drive it the next day to make sure we are not starving.”
One driver said it once took him 45 minutes to take a passenger from the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital to the Hulhumalé ferry terminal.
“The bridge was not open then. But I only got MVR25,” he said.
Some drivers contended only a few passengers complain about the MVR100 fare.
“I have met three passengers who said MVR100 was too little. So they gave me MVR150 when I dropped them off at Hulhulé [airport],” one man claimed.
“You need to do the right math. Only the correct math can solve this problem. This whole issue rose because the previous government ended their calculation at MVR40.”
But members of the public countered the price was high in consideration of other actors.
“The quality of the service must be taken into account when determining a price. The taxis we get into smell horrible. They play unpleasant things or programmes inside it. And when we request them to stop, they begin arguing,” one man said.
There were calls to introduce meter taxis as a fair solution, a suggestion welcomed by some taxi drivers..
Concluding the forum, Transport Minister Aishath Nahula said her decision would reflect everyone’s opinion and assured “convenience” under the new government.
The ministry invited public feedback on the taxi fare via email, phone or letter before next Sunday.