One thing that strikes me every time I am in Kolkata or Mumbai is how easy it is to move around in these metros even if you don’t have your own car. You can flag down a taxi anywhere and very few refuse going to even an inconvenient destination.
In Kolkata last month, I was surprised that the taxi drivers didn’t even round off the fare to the next multiple of 10 and returned the exact change. I even got a printed receipt. True, some cabbies do act greedy outside the airport or train stations. But elsewhere, they are not known to fleece passengers.
Much is said about Delhi’s love for automobiles. The statistics released last week showed how we further clogged our roads with another 500,000 vehicles in just one year. It could well be indulgence for many, adding a car or more to their personal fleet when they should have switched over to public transport.
But I know many who tried taking the metro but had to pay more for the last mile connectivity than what they would spend for taking their cars. On Delhi roads, the only para-transit available is auto-rickshaws where every ride is a potential nightmare. The guy in front of you cares a hoot for road safety. If he is not drunk, he is surely in a tearing hurry. And if you somehow reach safely, you are almost always overcharged.
Yes, Delhi now boasts of 5,000-odd no-nonsense radio taxis but their minimum response time is half an hour. The 500 authorised cab stands that have metered black and green CNG taxis are hard to locate on the go. In both cases, one anyway ends up paying the return fare, which is factored in the meter rate because the cabbie won’t have a passenger on the way back.
Our cabs run on CNG and can reduce the load on environment — and the city’s crammed parking lots — by dissuading a good number of car-owners. A lot is at stake as more than 700 new cars hit Delhi’s roads every day. No wonder the overhead smog just refuses to budge.
Environment apart, why Delhiites can’t have the privilege of just flagging down a cab like people do in most parts of the rational world? The only excuse of a logic is that autos are allowed everywhere in Delhi — unlike Kolkata and Mumbai — and so taxis are not allowed to be hired on roads. What about those who consider those reckless three-wheelers unsafe? Or those who find open autos inconvenient in Delhi’s scorching summer, freezing winter or when it pours?
Recently, there has been renewed focus on taming the autowallahs in Delhi, breaking the financial cartels by granting 45,000 new permits, and insisting that all vehicles have GPS so there are no complaints of overcharging. But the government refuses to frame a policy for the unregulated street taxi sector.
Taxi stands are one of the biggest encroachers of public land as the civic agencies just let them be. Diesel and petrol-run private hire cars running as taxis cause pollution. A proposal to introduce smaller economy taxis that could be flagged down as autos was hurriedly put away. We need to accept that the majority of those used to cars do not feel comfortable in autos. Most auto users, on the other hand, also use taxis when they need and can find.
There is no reason why Delhi cannot offer both choices. Unless we believe that every Delhiite who deserves to travel safely and comfortably in a car already owns and always drives one and the rest are fine risking the reckless, open autos in a city of extreme weathers. Maybe that is why Delhi is the car capital of India.