HT Unclog Mumbai: Cabs on call, but not a joyride yet
Don’t feel like fighting for space on a crowded train or bus today? Call for an Uber or Ola, or jump on to a black-and-yellow cab. If all else fails, take a rick.
You, the Mumbai commuter, are spoilt for choice: on a good day, 40,000 conventional taxis, including the AC Cool Cabs; 2,000 radio cab services; 30,000 app-based cab services; 70,000 kaali-peelis and over two lakh autorickshaws are at your service.
While these options should be making commuting a dream in Mumbai, rude drivers, autos and taxis refusing journeys, surge pricing and overcharging makes it quite the opposite.
It’s time to change
The way Mumbai travels has changed drastically. In 2005, 5% commuters used taxis and autorickshaws. Today, that number is significantly higher, with improvements in public transport systems like the suburban trains and the metro.
Where Mumbai travels to is changing – commercial and business hubs are no longer concentrated in the Island city. Central Mumbai and suburbs such as Andheri are rapidly growing as office districts.
How we travel is also changing. There are no set peak hours, office-goers travel at all times of the day and night. This has given a boost to app-based aggregators such as Uber and Ola that offer round-the-clock services at fairly reasonable rates.
The conventional taxis and autorickshaws, yet to up their game, are facing the brunt of the rapid changes. With their popularity falling, drivers earn far lower than they used to.
For unions of taxi and auto drivers, however, the focus continues to be the ‘them-versus-us’ debate. The popularity of the app cabs, despite concerns about surge pricing, has drivers pressuring the state to regularise them.
The state government has now issued the draft City Taxi Rules, 2016, where it proposes to merge existing rules governing different taxis and put in place measures to control surge pricing by fixing a minimum and maximum fare for app cabs.
Meanwhile, transport experts and activists have suggested ways to make travelling by the black-and-yellows and autorickshaws more comfortable.
A busy city like Mumbai requires taxis and autorickshaws to always be available. Hailing a kaali-peeli or autorickshaw during the peak hours, say commuters, is a nightmare. Experts suggest making these services available on a smartphone app — like app-based aggregators do — to make them more accessible to the commuter and to help them stay relevant.
The move, said experts, will also enhance last mile connectivity to take commuters to and from railway and metro stations and bus stops.
Different kinds of taxis have different fares. Autos charge lower than taxis. Consumer activists want fare structures need to be reworked, as they feel this where conventional taxis lose out to app-based cabs that offer AC vehicles and still charge much lower.
A little courtesy, please?
The most common complaint from commuters is that taxi and auto drivers refuse to ferry passengers if the route does not suit them. And this is when their fares have been on the rise since 2012. While fares have gone up, the quality of service remains poor.
What’s worse? There is no regulation or crack down by transport authorities. Or if there is, it is not effective enough.
They are unruly, some drivers are rude and the lack of a drop-off and pick-up points mean areas outside bottlenecks such as railway stations are always jammed.
Transport experts feel the government should make all drivers take a course on the city’s routes and on how to behave with passengers before they are issued licences. Several new drivers, especially those with app-based taxis, do not have proper knowledge of the city. “While issuing badges to taxi or auto rickshaw drivers, the RTO should ensure they have proper knowledge of the city demography. Their health should be checked, their behaviour analysed,”said AV Shenoy, transport expert.
Let’s stay safe
While Mumbai has a good record as far as safety goes, especially of women, authorities should still put in place safeguards to ensure passenger safety — a mandatory panic button mandatory on all types of taxis and autos, a stringent screening process to ensure drivers have no criminal records, among others, could go a long way.
Some experts feel autorickshaws should not be allowed to make long journeys. “They are meant for shorter routes as they are unstable. Ideally, these should be replaced with the four-wheel small vehicles or electric cars now,” said Ashutosh Vaidya, who has been associated with the taxi industry.
Sharing is saving
As fares rise, experts said a good way out will be introducing share services on autos and taxis, especially on short routes. Recently, even app-based cabs have launched ride-sharing services. This will not only bring down fares, but also reduce pollution and unclog the city’s roads.
“The pressure on our road infrastructure goes up when a single person travels in one taxi. Fares will come at a par with bus tickets,”said Vaidya. Some experts also want transport authorities to ensure commuters are not fleeced by those offering ride-sharing—whether conventional cabs or taxi aggregators
Solutions in place
Transport commissioner Praveen Gedam said the state government is in the process of finalising rules for regulating app-based taxis.“The union government is likely to issue guidelines for taxis this month. Even the state is bringing in new rules to regulate app cabs. We have proposed to allow black-and-yellow taxis to switch to app-based services,” Gedam said, adding the department has made available helplines for addressing complaints of passengers about taxis and auto rickshaws.