Ashok Hotel’s sprawling 53-year-old taxi stand is a secluded place.
About 30 black and yellow Ambassadors taxis — affectionately known as Amby cabs — are parked under towering peepal and neem trees.
The turbaned drivers, dressed in light blue, sprawl on charpoys inside makeshift hutments, waiting for passengers.
But days are tough.
Few passengers remember the black and blue Amby anymore. Or, the smiling driver who didn’t need to be told you were headed for the airport when you stepped out of home holding a VIP briefcase.
As the Capital speeds on the development highway, there are few who wish the future hadn’t arrived so soon. The taxi driver at Ashok Hotel is one of them.
“We have nowhere to go,” says Kulwant Singh, owner of a taxi stand here.
“Our business has fallen by almost 80 per cent in the past few years. We have about 33 Ambassador taxis here. The taxis that would do 10 trips in the old days does just one now.”
The number of black and yellow Ambassadors is fast declining. In 2001, there were about 10,000 of them. Only 4,000 remain today.
Who’s eating into their pie?
The swank and swift radio cabs.
Today, there are about 3, 000 radio taxis in the city — and on an average, one radio taxi does 10 trips every day.
Driven to despair
With their business touching an all-time low, the drivers of the Amby cabs — 80 per cent of them are from Punjab and inherited the profession from their fathers — are a desperate lot. Most want to return home.
Kulwant Singh, whose father set up a stand at hotel Ashok in 1956, has lost about a dozen drivers in the past one year alone. “I have more taxis than drivers. I want to quit the business, but there is nothing else I can do.”
His agony is shared by Harchand Singh, 60, who’s been a driver for the past 30 years. The last time he saw a passenger was two days ago.
“It is getting difficult to make ends meet. I make just Rs 100 a day,” he says.
As we talk to him, Sukhvinder Singh, 32, drives in.
The young driver is visibly tired, his eyes bleary from the sleepless night he spent in the waiting area of the Ashok hotel.
“I waited for a passenger at the hotel for 15 hours, but did not get a single call. This has happened for the sixth time this month,” he says.
The mood is no different at another taxi stand at Janpath, which has about dozen such cars.
Surjeet Singh, the stand owner, and his drivers — most of whom have been in the profession for 30 years — spend time in ideal gossip.
“Our taxi stand is a desolate place. Most taxis hardly get to do more than a trip a day,” he says.
The collector’s item
Amrik Singh, a taxi driver at a Raisina Road stand says the little business he gets today mainly comes from old- timers and foreigners, who still love to travel in the Amby.
“I have about 20 elderly customers who keep me going. Then there are foreigners for whom travelling in the black and yellow cab is an exotic experience,” he says.
But Kuldeep Singh, 80 , president, Delhi Taxi Men’s Union, believes it is the declining standards of the Amby drivers that has let them down.
Interestingly, Satish Sundra, who owns Ram Chander and Sons the city’s oldest toyshop at Connaught Place, says the black and yellow Ambassador has already become a collector’s item.
“I sell about 100 models of black and yellow taxis taxis every month,” he says. Perhaps the most telling sign that the black and yellow taxi is fast rolling into history.