Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Travel world-class — radio taxis are here to stay

The rude and dishevelled Indian cabby who takes you for a ride may soon be a thing of the past. Welcome to the growing fleet of radio taxis that boasts of sedan cars, courteous chauffeurs and fair meters matching world standards!
These taxis, which come equipped with two-way wireless systems and air-conditioners, have been plying in many cities since 2001. Besides luxury, on offer are hassle-free and safe rides — a major requirement in cities, especially for women.

“Safety is our USP,” said Binod Mishra, head (operations), Mega Cab 1929, a leading radio taxi operator in the city, where the murder of an Australian national by a cab driver last year had sullied the image of the entire lot.

“A woman can travel alone anywhere, anytime and be assured of safety as the taxi is fitted with the global positioning system, which helps keep track of the vehicle,” he said. The wireless system in the cabs also allows the passenger to get in touch with a family member if need be.

Drivers of call taxis, as radio cabs are known in the southern Indian cities of Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, are not always impeccably dressed, but they are definitely courteous and never overcharge.

Delhi alone has around 500 of them. Across India, these taxis are a far cry from the yellow-black cabs (green-black in Delhi) and the rickety three-wheelers (auto-rickshaws), whose drivers are notorious for haggling despite government efforts to reform their habits.

“I have always been afraid of being cheated by the auto-rickshaw drivers as I know that their meters are unreliable,” said Kamini, a homemaker in north Delhi.

But Mishra remarked: “Commuters no longer need to put up with tantrums of taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, who invariably refuse to ply to distant areas. “All they need to do is hail a radio taxi over telephone and be picked up from their door step. Airline passengers can also book these taxis at counters in the airport.”

“What we are seeing is people using auto-rickshaws have moved on to call taxis and don’t mind paying a little extra,” said Jayaraj (one name) of Fast Track Call Taxi in Chennai.

They are expensive compared to regular taxis, starting at Rs15 and charging Rs15 for every kilometre. But then many don’t mind dishing out some extra money for the facility. “It is the best thing to have happened in many years. I no longer need to put up with auto drivers pestering for extra money,” noted K Govindarajan, a Bangalore-based software engineer and a regular user of call taxis.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that call taxi is the next best invention after sliced bread!” quipped Mishra. Business has been wonderful for these call taxi operators. Already, these taxis have replaced auto-rickshaws in the central (railway) station in Chennai, where there are at least 38 registered call taxi operators compared to just a few in 2001.

Mega Cab 1929, which recorded a turnover of Rs2.50bn ($57m), proposes to expand its operation to Lucknow, while plans are being firmed up to launch the service in Mumbai with a fleet of 500 vehicles shortly. “At least now not all taxis can be called villains of tourism,” said Jayaraj.

Source: IANS

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