The once-thriving taxi industry in Thimphu is now grappling with a sharp decline in earnings, leaving many taxi drivers in desperate circumstances. Taxi drivers in Thimphu say they are struggling to make ends meet due to increased competition, especially from government and corporate employees who are also in the business and new policies, such as increased frequency of city buses. The sentiments among these drivers are ones of desperation and helplessness.
Cab drivers at capital are voicing their concerns about dwindling income due to a series of factors. The shift towards reduced commuting and the preference for bus travel has significantly impacted the income of taxi drivers. Additionally part-time drivers offering lower fares have further exacerbated the challenges faced by their full-time counterparts.
Wangchen, who had been a taxi driver since 2010, shared his story of adversity. He shared that he used to earn approximately Nu 5,000 daily, but now struggles to make even Nu 1,500. He said that apart from the fact that many Bhutanese are moving abroad, “full-time taxi drivers are facing difficulties in getting business unlike earlier days due to the competition from other travel services.”
“The increasing popularity of buses services and the competition from part-time drivers have affected my business,” he said, adding that some part-time drivers usually take passengers with low chargers since they have side income from another source. He suggested that it would be better if they could allow dedicated full-timers to service the transportation needs as those in service earn a monthly income of about Nu 30,000.
Another Taxi driver shared that during rush hours in the morning, evening and weekends, “the number of travelers get divided as part-timer are also free, and during daytime it is hard to get even one passenger.” “I see business getting divided and barley earn Nu 450 per day.”
Meanwhile, some pointed out that the advent of city bus services has also brought about a significant transformation in the taxi industry. Nima Tshering, another taxi driver, shared that the once-reliable income of Nu 3,000 per day has plummeted due to the increase of city buses. “Passengers often opt for the lower bus fares, leaving taxi drivers with fewer customers. The business has now declined drastically with the establishment of city bus services. In the olden days, we used to earn around Nu 3000 per day, but it has reduced drastically.” He further added that even if they get passengers, “most passengers claim they pay less for other taxis, and they are not willing to ride in our taxi.”
Dorji said, “With the extension in the timing of the city bus until midnight, it had really hampered our income.” He said that earlier, after 7 p.m., they used to get at least some amount, but now that most people prefer city buses, getting the income has really become hard.
“It is not that we are urging to stop the bus services, but it would be a balance for both teams if they could come up with something such that if they could time the timing the same as earlier till 7 p.m. and also the timing for the service could change at least by keeping some interval of about 30 minutes between the bus services.” He added that adjusting bus timings to end by 7 p.m. and introducing a 30-minute interval between services could address the issue.
Meanwhile, Jampel, a taxi driver venturing mostly to long distances shared that since all individuals need to sustain themselves, it’s not only the drivers facing crises; everyone is affected. “I think part-time drivers don’t affect us much, and they usually don’t rush like other full-time drivers.”
He added that most part-time drivers are those who have low salaries and engage in side hustles. With the recent pay hike, he said, “I believe there won’t be as many part-time drivers as before.”
On the other hand, some part-timers said that they wouldn’t have low charges or anything related to that, but there might be some who might have given or dropped low fares, but “I think others should not have issues related to this.”
Another part-time driver said, “The business itself has gone down. Before, I used to get about Nu 3,000 after office hour.” He shared that there might be a little hitch in the business of a full-time driver as the business gets divided, but as an income, it is hard to sustain and one has to search for multitasking to put one’s own feet on the ground.
Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu