For he's a jolly expensive black 'n' yellow fellow

From today, the Mumbai commuter will pay more for his cab ride. The minimum fare has gone up to Rs 19 from the previous Rs 17. This increase is designed to cause a substantial dent in pockets as on an average a cab ride for which you pay Rs 30 approximately might see you shelling out Rs 37 now.

A L Quadros
Taxi travails: A L Quadros at his Navjivan Society (Mumbai Central) office makes a point. Pic/Neha Parekh


As the new fares add to the flurry of worries of commuters, A L Quadros, he of the magnificent moustache and general secretary of the Mumbai Taximen’s Union defends the cabbies and says that the commuter and cabbie have little choice but to reduce friction, clear misunderstandings and co-exist peacefully.

An interview:
How many cabs are there in Mumbai at present?

We have 42,000 black ‘n' yellow cabs plying in the city, presently. These include about 3,500 Cool Cabs.

Sea of cabs: Taxis at a parking lot. A lack of parking space for cabs has added to problems. Taxi numbers have decreased drastically, resulting in clashes between commuters and cabbies

How do these numbers compare with the past?
Not favourably. Cabs have reduced drastically. In 1997, we had 62,300 cabs plying in Mumbai, today, like I said, we have nearly 20,000 less. There are a number of reasons for this like the High Court order for conversion to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) engines. Many cabbies could not do this within the deadline. 

There was also the order to replace taxis older than 25 years and several Premier Padminis that were phased out. Many cabbies could not do this within the deadline and their permits were cancelled. Several cabbies also sold their permits (I think about 4,000 permits were sold) to fleet cabs (private players). Now we have 25,000 new cabs and about 15,000 old ones. They can operate till they complete 25 years.

From today, commuters will pay more as minimum fare?
Yes, commuters are going to pay Rs 19 as compared to Rs 17 for minimum fare. Very roughly, if they pay Rs 30 for a cab ride presently, they will pay Rs 37 approximately from today.

The meters are still old and when will they show the new fares?
The RTO has given us upto 45 days to recalibrate the meters. However, this is a very short period within which we have to do so, because there are also several public holidays within the stipulated time. So, we are going to ask for an extension of this time given for re-calibration.

There is going to be a lot of confusion. Cabs have not even re-calibrated their meters to show the Rs 17 minimum fare. They charge the passenger what they want…
The last fare hike came in March 13, 2012, where the minimum fare went up from Rs 16 to Rs 17. But, this was considered outdated and a new committee was formed in April this year. Most cabbies knew that they would once again have to re-calibrate their meters a few months hence.

How does the commuter pay from today? Are new fare cards been given to the cabbies?
Yes, they are being distributed and most cabbies should have the new cards. Passengers must pay by the new fare card.

Are you aware that several cabbies have been fooling commuters since the past two-three days saying that the Rs 19 hike has come into effect and they must pay by that rate?
They are not allowed to do that. Commuters have to insist on seeing the fare card and then pay. They are not allowed to charge more, before the hike comes into effect.

Earlier, the Mumbai cabbie had a great reputation, better than other cities in the country. Today, most commuters complain that cabbies refuse to ply on so many occasions. They pretend they are repairing their vehicles or simply say no, when asked…
I would say that Mumbai cabbies are still great, even compared to other cabbies in the world, not just India. A majority of cabbies live in the far-flung suburbs. In the evening, when a driver has to return home, a passenger might ask him to go to Colaba. How can he then return from the tip of South Mumbai back to his home? That may be the reason he says no. We (as the Union) had also recommended something like ‘transit points'’ for cabbies. These are useful during evening peak hours. A cabbie can drop his passenger at this point after which he can take another vehicle to his destination. These have not come into effect. The authorities also have to realise that bus drivers, train drivers have rules and regulations. They have a proper rest period after a certain amount of driving. They have canteens and rest rooms. What does the cabbie have? He has to drive continually for 12 hours.

You cannot blame the Govt. and Transport Authorities for everything…
It is their duty to see that things are implemented. We, as a Union can give recommendations, they have to see the merit in what we are asking for and implement that. I also recommend that cabs have a visible colour marker delineating those that are from the city, and those from the suburbs. In this way, suburban bound passengers can hail these `suburban colour coded' cabs in the evenings; all this can be done to reduce friction between passengers and drivers. Even W Bengal has a similar kind of system in place.

Is the black `n' yellow cab facing competition from private players? If they behave like this, they will lose out to private players…
I do not think so. I think a majority of them behave well, though I agree there may have been some problems but even the cabbie’s welfare has to be thought about. Private cabs usually do not take short distances. Many of these private players are closing down because of the paucity of drivers and other problems. Private cabs too refuse passengers. They might make some excuse like: the vehicle is unavailable.

Today, there is a feeling amongst commuters that cabbies are resorting to goondagiri…
This is not a correct term. These cabbies are not goondas. I ask you how many complaints have you received about cabbies robbing passengers? Or, molesting a lady passenger? We hear of sporadic crimes in other cities but not in Mumbai. Yes, I agree that there have been incidences of passengers being overcharged or cabbies refusing to ply. Yet, we cannot call them thugs. Many of these are misunderstandings between the commuter and cab driver, which can be sorted out. One way is also to allow a signage on top of the cab, stating if the cab is 'engaged' and waiting for someone. This would help clear matters.

Often, even if the meter says engaged, if the cab is free passengers get in telling the driver, “We don't care what the meter states, your cab is empty”

With the monorail and metro coming in to Mumbai, how will cabbies face up to the competition?
I do not think there would be a problem. After all, these modes of transport will ply only on certain routes. As it is, people who own private cars are also using cabs because of various problems like drivers and parking paucity. So, people who want cabs are only increasing.

Is it a case of demand outnumbering supply?
Yes, in 1997 with a population of about 80 lakh we had more cabs. Today, with a population close to 140 lakh we have fewer cabs. It is the duty of the Govt. to give more permits. We also want more parking stands for cabs. Today, there are hardly any parking stands and so the cabbie is forced to park anywhere on the road. We need more dedicated parking stands. In every place, even places like Singapore, priority has to be given to public transport. There are various schemes being made to increase parking for private vehicles, what about public transport?

With yet another fare hike, how much is the common man supposed to bear?
Why blame us? Blame the Govt. for inflation. Just an example, in 1993 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was available at Rs 8 a kg. Today, it is Rs 34 a kg. Do you see the more than four-fold jump?

We hear about how cabbies fleece commuters, fake tariff cards, tamper meters?
There may be a minority who may have fleeced a commuter but by and large this is not the case.

Earlier, there were some problems at the airport but I would tell everybody to take pre-paid taxis only. Everywhere else they have to pay by tariff card. I agree some cards have been forged but the genuine ones are signed by the RTO.

It is very difficult to tackle this menace but the Union will take action if it learns of a particular driver using a bogus card. Also, we have to nab the meter mechanic for meter tampering. I know complaints are widespread but I can say with conviction that it is not very easy to tamper with meters.

For the cabbie and commuter to co-exist trust and respect has to be re-established. How can we do that?
Though I am not trying to justify overcharging, it is unfair to say that only Mumbai cabbies fleece passengers. I remember going to Singapore along with a top transport official in 2005 and we were in a cab. The fare was officially three Singapore dollars but the cabbie quoted 15! The transport official finally bargained it down to 10 and we even got a receipt for it! While I am not saying this is correct, all I am stating is why only blame the Mumbai cabbie? Both commuter and cabbie have to understand each other’s problems. With all the bumps on the road, I see a bright future for the cabbie in the commuting landscape of the city.

Quick Takes
Previous Fare:

Rs 17 minimum, implemented in March 2012.

Present Fare:
Rs 19 minimum, from today, October 11, 2012.

Message for Mumbai
>> Pay per latest tariff card as meters have to still be re-calibrated.
>> Genuine cards are stamped by the RTO.
>> Do not let cabbies talk you into paying more or incorrect fare. 

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