For as long as you can remember, you have been at the mercy of their whims and their greed, begging them to give you a ride on their vehicles, resigning yourself to their refusals, or squabbling with them over obviously tampered meters. The tables are all set to turn, as the city’s much-hated taxi drivers will soon be found begging outside railway stations, asking members of the general public to ‘contribute generously’ so they can build themselves new taxi stands.
So don’t be surprised if you are greeted by woebegone cabbies the next time you step out of a railway station — taxi unions are planning to place members outside stations like Churchgate, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Mumbai Central, Dadar, Kurla, Bandra, Khar and Borivli.
The unions say that the move comes in the wake of the government’s refusal to provide money for the construction of taxi parking stands. “We are expecting the public to help us generate money for taxi stands as the government doesn’t have funds for the same,” said A Quadros, leader of Mumbai Taximen’s Union.
The cost of each signboard is pegged at Rs 3,000. The unions claim that over 1,500 taxi stand signboards are missing in the city and its suburbs, and that their absence forces taxi drivers to park haphazardly on the roads. The unions added that the government has offered only Rs 20,000, asking cab drivers to bear the rest of the expenses themselves.
‘Weakest of the weak’
While preparing to hold talks with government officials on the matter, the union is also drafting an appeal for the general public. The draft makes an attempt to win the sympathy of the public, by stating that taxi drivers are the ‘weakest among the weaker sections of society,’ and are struggling to earn their livelihood.
‘More than 1,200 taxi stand signoboards have been stolen and the RTO has failed to reinstall them. In the last 14 years, the RTO has failed to provide a single such signboard. As a result, the taxi men have to pay heavy fines to the traffic police. The action committees of all taxi unions in the city have now decided to raise funds from the public by begging,’ states the draft of the flyer that will be distributed by the cabbies.
Despite the notoriety of taxi drivers for refusing passengers, plying rickety, uncomfortable vehicles and tampering with meters to fleece passengers, the union is confident of winning the public’s support.
Not surprisingly, the taxi unions themselves have no immediate plans for pitching in for the stands that they claim that the cabbies under their protection direly need. “We will first get financial support from the general public and the union will contribute later, depending on the need,” added Quadros, claiming that he expects the public to shell out for the beleaguered cab drivers.
Other union leaders claimed that they have already initiated the process of replacing 90 per cent of their old vehicles with newer models, and made other changes like replacing mechanical meters with electronic ones, and are thus confident that the public will be positively disposed towards them and contribute. They also claimed that nearly 89 taxi stands have been taken over by pay-and-park operators, while drug addicts have usurped many others.
Cost of one parking stand signboard: Rs 3,000
Metal rod: Rs 1,200
Patra plate: Rs 600
Painting: Rs 300
Deposit with BMC, permission to break footpath for installation: Rs 900
I do not think that I would be too keen on contributing to these unions. Ideally it is the government that should pay these people. We are already burdened by inflation and making such contributions is out of the question. - Deepika Sahu, 23
When we want taxis they refuse to ply, and now they have the audacity to ask us for money. I feel like taking them to task rather than giving my hard-earned money. - Paresh Ingle, 28
Taxis can be seen randomly parked on roads. The cabbies need taxi stands and it is a valid demand. - Sujit Sonkar, 28
The number of signboards that the unions claim are missing in the city and its suburbs