Prepaid taxi services at all the five main railway stations — CST, Mumbai Central, Bandra Terminus, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus and Dadar — could be scrapped as railway authorities have opted for commercial exploitation of the service, overlooking passenger convenience.
Western Railway (WR) has already issued an advertisement for leasing out the plot outside Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus railway stations for prepaid taxi services, while Central Railway (CR) has written to transport authorities, asking to levy a parking fee of Rs10 a trip from each taxi.
Taxi unions have refused to participate in WR’s tendering process and also refused to pay CR’s parking fees, saying they cannot afford to pay the charges.
The prepaid taxi service, which was started in 2012, has proved to be a comparatively safer than black-and-yellow cabs for outstation passengers.
The unions have threatened to stop the service if transport and railway authorities failed to come up with any solutions. The unions conveyed this to Regional Transport Office (RTO) officials in a meeting on Wednesday. Railway authorities were also called for the meeting, but no one from the WR and CR turned up, said sources.
“Railway stations are different as compared to airports and people from all strata of society travel by trains. Even under the current arrangements, many avoid prepaid services because we charge a little more since we have to wait for fare at stations,” said KK Tiwari, leader of Swabhiman Taxi Rickshaw service, adding they are barely managing to run the service.
The cabbies are allowed to charge Rs15 extra as service charges for each trip because they have to wait at the station and accept any fare that comes their way from the prepaid counter.
Confirming the development, a senior RTO official, who did not want to be named, said none of the unions have renewed their contract for running the service. “The contract of all the unions has come to an end and no union is ready to renew it till the issue gets resolved,” he said.
A CR spokesperson avoided commenting on the issue, but a senior CR official said they have decided to charge parking fees for prepaid taxi service, according to the railway board’s policy of commercial exploitation of railway property. The WR spokesperson said passengers won’t be burdened even though they commercially exploit the service. “The rates charged to passengers will be decided by the RTO,” he said.
Tiwari said more than 50% of prepaid taxi service users travel short distances of around 4km, for which the minimum fare is Rs74.
However, RTO sources said the service has proved to be helpful in bringing down cases of taxi drivers cheating passengers over fare.