Recently, we had the case of an American tourist who was cheated by a taxi driver in Delhi. The driver foxed the tourist by claiming there was a civil war in India, and took him to a ramshackle guest house where he was significantly overcharged. The cabbie was later nabbed.
It brought back memories of my recent trip to Canada. The first thing that caught my eye as I got into a taxi in Toronto, was the "Taxicab Passengers' Bill of Rights" pasted prominently on the back of the driver's seat. Beginning with the registration number of the taxi and the name of the owner and his license number, it gave details of the tariff, including the charges for waiting and for extra baggage, thereby leaving no room for any manipulation of the tariff by the driver.
It even said: "If the meter is not on, then the ride is free". It also provided a toll-free 24-hour helpline and also an e-mail address on which one could lodge a complaint or even compliment the driver if you liked his service.
The Taxicab Bill of Rights in Toronto promises the passengers transparency in fares. It therefore makes it mandatory for every taxi to be equipped with an automatic receipt dispenser which provides a receipt stating the date as well as the time of commencement and conclusion of the trip, the distance travelled, the total fare charged, registration number of the taxicab and the telephone number of the customer service department.
Issuing a receipt is mandatory. So, even after getting off the cab, one can use the information on the receipt to complain. It also helps the enforcement agencies monitor the cabbie's performance.
The Bill also gives consumers certain specific rights . For example, it says the passenger has the right to (a) direct the driver on the route to be taken (b) an effective complaint redressal process (c) a free ride if the meter is not in a recording position. The Taxicab Bill of Passenger Rights also says that the driver is not to recommend any hotel accommodation or restaurant, unless specifically requested by the passenger. It also gives a tourism number on which passengers can get information on hotels and restaurants.
I have seen passenger "Bill of Rights" in some other cities in the US as well, but by far, the Canadian one I saw seems to be the most detailed.
In most cities, taxi drivers are known to ignore these rights of passengers. So much so that in January this year, the New York police and the Taxi and Limousine Commission launched an undercover programme code named "Operation Secret Rider" to crackdown on bad cabbie behaviour!.
In Toronto, the taxi owner/driver I encountered, Harbhajan Singh, a Sikh of Indian origin, told me that action against complaints is prompt and swift there. If a cabbie takes a longer route (without any valid reason) to reach a destination, he may well be hauled up and asked to return the fare to the passenger. "Wish they would do that in India too because I have had some bad experience with cabbies in Delhi," said Mr Singh,.
Whether you are visiting a city on business or on a holiday, as you make your way from the airport or the railway station to the hotel, one of the first persons that you come in contact with is the taxi driver. Many times your impression of a city or even a country is formed on the basis of your experience with the taxi drivers. An unregulated taxi service and dishonest taxi drivers not only mar the city's or the country's reputation (and thereby its revenue from tourism), but also leave the consumer /passenger highly vulnerable.
Surely, it is not such a difficult task for the government to empower consumers or passengers of taxi services and ensure that they enjoy a ride free of exploitation? It is time the police and the taxi drivers' associations took some concrete action on that front.