By GLORIA BAUAI
GILBERT and wife Martha Aikal have started a taxi business in Lae – a public service badly lacking in the country’s second biggest city.
People in the city depend mostly on buses and other public transport to move around. They need a taxi service badly.
Gilbert is from Wabag in Enga. Martha from Western Highlands. They have five children.
Gilbert noticed the need for a reliable and safe taxi service in Lae and decided to start one in November last year. He started the SMAP service.
Aikal and Martha moved to Lae from Port Moresby in 2009. They started their family and a business operating two buses for public transport.
“It was just something on the side because I had a fulltime job and she was also busy with other projects.
“However, we saw that running buses incurred a lot of costs and hard to maintain. We spent more money than we make.”
Gilbert noticed the high cost of wear and tear on the buses because of the poor road condition.
However the road conditions in the city have gradually improved in the past few years, together with a decrease in the crime rate. So it was time to try their hand on taxis.
They bought two cars last year to start the taxi service and another one last month.
One of their drivers is Joshua Zerio who agrees that the city needs a reliable and efficient taxi service for locals and people visiting Lae from other provinces.
“We not only pick Lae residents but also visitors from other provinces coming into Lae. We give them a good impression of the city. So we taxi drivers have a very important job.”
Joshua is aware that there are pirate taxis – people operating private vehicles as taxis without any licence. He warns passengers to avoid such illegal services.
“ We are focusing our business on three values: Reliability, Safety and Hygiene, to give us that competitive edge.”
“I educate my customers that when they get on a registered taxi, they are covered by insurance if an accident happens. I tell them to be cautious about which car they get on.”
Gilbert is confident the taxi business will grow although like in any other business there will be risks to take along the way.
“It doesn’t mean that there are absolutely no challenges. We still have problems due to poor road conditions in certain parts of the city.”
Lae MP John Rosso recently announced that road upgrading work is in progress in the city in consultation with the Works Department and Lae City Authority. It includes the portion from Bumbu Bridge to Malahang Road and Bumbu Bridge to the Kamkumung Roundabout.
Gilbert knows that road conditions greatly impact vehicles and in turn the taxi business.
Drivers also face the risk of being held up when they slow down to manoeuvre around potholes.
“Apart from road upgrading, Lae also has an active police force which we are grateful for.”
Gilbert and Martha like other locals are venturing into the business world confidently yet cautiously.
“We are focusing our business on three values: Reliability, Safety and Hygiene, to give us that competitive edge. We are planning to bring in two more vehicles and upgrade to brands which suit the needs of our customers.”
The road ahead for the Aikals is looking good.