Thinley Namgay

To ease crowding and taxis competing for lesser number of passengers, taxis will ply based on the even and odd number all over the country. The rule came into force yesterday afternoon.

The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) initiated this as a measure to ensure social distancing after the government announced the importance of maintaining distance while travelling.

The government on March 28 announced restriction on the carrying capacity of taxis and passenger buses. It was decided that a four-seater taxi would carry only two passengers and the number of passengers in public buses was slashed by 50 percent. Taxis with a seating capacity of eight people can carry only four.

RSTA has come out with a standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure the proper implementation of the rule. RSTA’s Officiating Director General, Ugyen Norbu, said that they have distributed the SOP on physical distancing to all the traffic authorities around the country on March 29.

The taxi association and relevant authorities were also briefed about the new rule in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Traffic police said that they had been explaining the rules to taxi drivers and bus operators, as this is a new rule.

To reach out the information to all the taxi drivers around the country would be challenging for the Bhutan Taxi Association, as some of the drivers have not registered with the association.

Officials said that registered divers would get all the information from their group’s WeChat. Sharing information by registered drivers would be only solution to spread the message to all the taxi drivers, as per officials.

Taxi drivers, meanwhile are not happy.

A driver, Sonam Thinley, said that the taxi drivers had been incurring loss due to the coronavirus problem. “Now we struggle to get Nu 500 a day.”

Another driver, Man Bhadur Waiba, said that it is difficult to sustain at the moment. He said a trip from town to Olakha with a fare on Nu 35 per passenger brought them only Nu 70. “By the time we move from the town, we have to pay Nu 10 as a parking fee and the net amount becomes only Nu 60,” he said. “While returning, we hardly get passengers. Drivers are worried about house rent, vehicle loans and family expenditure.”

As per the SOP, taxi drivers are not allowed to increase the fare.

Another driver, Tashi Gyeltshen suggested carrying at least three passengers.

“If we are allowed only two passengers, government should keep the provision to increase the fare from the normal rate. Waiving off parking fee for taxi could be one solution to,” said Tashi Gyeltshen.

The SOP would be implemented until further notice from the government and not complying with it would be charged as per the law.

The public at the bus terminals and the taxi parking are required to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres while waiting for bus or taxi.