Upstaged in Mumbai, Meru, Tab look to Navi Mumbai and Thane for solace

Jun 27, 2016, 06:31 IST | Shashank Rao and Ranjeet Jadhav

Unable to expand their fleets as per earlier plans and with close to 1,000 cars combined off the road, the two biggies are now trying to revive their fortunes outside Mumbai

When radio cabs had first launched in Mumbai, people were thrilled with the concept of an air-conditioned taxi turning up at their doorstep with just a phone call. For a while, TabCab and Meru were a huge hit. But it wasn’t long before mobile aggregators like Ola and Uber turned up and stole the show with drastically slashed fares.

A few hundred TabCabs are seen parked on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway at Vasai. Pics/Sameer Markande
A few hundred TabCabs are seen parked on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway at Vasai. Pics/Sameer Markande

Like the black-and-yellow taxis, fleet cabs too were unable to compete with such drastically reduced prices. These days, these cabs more likely to be seen gathering dust in parking lots. But while the steep competition has driven them off Mumbai roads, companies like TabCab and Meru are now looking to Navi Mumbai and Thane to revive their fortunes.

Meru Cabs parked in Malad. Pics/Satej Shinde
Meru Cabs parked in Malad. Pics/Satej Shinde

Although the cab companies did not specify the actual percentage of drop in demand, the absence of the red-and-white TabCabs and green Meru cabs is evidence that business is bad. Sources in the Transport department confirmed that the fare wars had led to the downfall of fleet radio cabs in the island city, and hundreds of cars are just sitting in parking lots. Sources in the RTO claimed that even the drivers complain that most of their journeys are now to and from the airport or railway terminus.

A fleet of parked TabCabs at Vasai and Meru Cabs at Malad (below) are proof of the downfall of the once-flourishing business
A fleet of parked TabCabs at Vasai and Meru Cabs at Malad (below) are proof of the downfall of the once-flourishing business

TabCab claimed that around 700 of its vehicles have been parked due to technical reasons, while Meru claimed that merely 100-odd of its cars are parked at various locations in the city. While both of them chose to remain mum on the loss of business, they did admit that they were unable to compete with the pricing of mobile aggregators.

Greener pastures
Now, both companies are looking to expand in newer, and hopefully greener, pastures in Thane and Navi Mumbai.

“Mumbai is saturated and there is growth in metropolitan regions like Thane and Navi Mumbai, where there is demand. We haven’t been able to expand as there is no level playing field here,” said T Majumdar, project director at TabCab.

This was part of the plan anyway, and both TabCab and Meru had grand plans of expanding their fleet and capturing Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane. Meru was to augment its fleet from 1,700 vehicles to 2,500 and TabCab’s fleet was supposed to grow from 2,700 to 4,000. But the lack of demand threw a spanner into these plans.

Fleet cab companies lament that they got the short end of the stick with the entry of mobile aggregators, which are still not regulated by the Transport department as they do not fall under its purview. The hope is that the current situation will change once the government passes the City Taxi Scheme, 2015, which will ensure that mobile aggregators also have to follow regulations on pricing.

“Nearly 100 of our vehicles out of the total fleet are parked. In the present condition, there is no control on the tariffs charged by mobile aggregators and, so, our association has approached the court,” said Siddhartha Pahawa, CEO of Meru.

“We are waiting for the proposed City Taxi Scheme, 2015, to be cleared by the government. This will clear many things,” said Transport Commissioner Shyam Wardhane.

Meanwhile, the fleet cabs are trying to survive by lowering their fares as well. The state transport authority (STA) recently decided to allow Meru Cab, the second-biggest fleet taxi operator in the city, to bring down cab fares for the next six months on an experimental basis.

The companies will also charge lower subscription fees from their drivers to boost the business.

“In May 2015, when the government had allowed us to raise fares, we were managing it at applicable rates. We are now giving 25 percent cash back facilities on certain routes like to the airport if paid through e-wallet. We will also initiate happy hours where from July where discounts would be offered,” added Pahwa.

Fares to drop
Sources in the state government said that the fares could be as low as those charged by the silver-blue Cool Cabs with a basic fare of Rs 28 for the first 1.5 km and Rs 18.55 for every subsequent kilometre.

Illegal parking?
A Vasai resident has alleged that hundreds of cabs from the company have been parked at an open ground of 5 acres even though there is no signboard declaring it as a parking zone. Asked whether it had been given that space by authorities, project director T Majumdar said, “The government doesn’t provide us parking lots. We have arranged for it on our own. These might be parked as they could be undergoing maintenance and are out of road.”

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