“Our taxis are safer than any radio taxi in the city. No passenger has ever complained about misbehaviour by a Kaali Peeli taxi driver,” says Gagandeep Singh, who has been plying his black and yellow ambassador in Delhi for more than a decade.
The recent ban on Uber and other app-based cab hailing services hasn’t meant more customers for the city’s Kaali Peeli fleet, which first started operating in Delhi more than 70 years ago. Their drivers, however, feel that they could give the radio cab companies a run for their money if they get a level playing field.
“Unlike auto rickshaws, we can’t pick and drop passengers at the roadside. We are challaned by cops if we stand on the roadside,” says Jasvinder Singh, who operates from a taxi stand near Imperial Hotel. “As a result, all kaali peeli taxis in Delhi are attached to taxi stands or with hotels, from where we get bookings,” he said.
Gagandeep said all hotels ensure proper verification of taxi drivers who drop guests. “They know us well and no driver can even think of misbehaving with a passenger,” he said.
“My taxi is in pristine condition and I know how to talk properly to a passenger, for which, I didn’t need any training (in soft skills),” he says in effortless English. “Can any driver of an app-based service match that?”
Of the 40,000 taxis in the city, Kaali Peeli taxis make up a small share. Their numbers are dwindling and black and yellow ambassadors are not a usual sight on the city streets anymore. Most drivers are replacing these old favourites with Eeco or Swift Dzires.
“My passengers are mostly foreign tourists and I don’t remember the last time I had a Delhiite as a passenger,” said Paramjeet Singh, who has been driving his black and yellow ambassador in Delhi since 1994.
“Foreigners, particularly the British, prefer Kaali Peeli ambassadors for getting a typical Indian experience,” he said. “In fact, more tourists approach me to take a picture of the taxi than for a ride. I don’t mind though, these cars have an old world charm that contemporary taxis can’t match,” he said.
Unlike others, Paramjeet doesn’t intend to replace his ambassador with a newer car. “I will leave driving taxis and do something else. There is not much income in driving kaali peelis anymore,” he said.