Tuesday, November 08, 2005

It's broke, but why fix it?

The state of a taxicab can describe the state of a nation. Take Mumbai . The average taxi is a musty, dusty, crusty old vehicle. The below average ones actually appear to be held together by Scotch tape.

Some of the door handles will fall off if you try to use them, while others refuse to work at all. The same holds for windows as well.

Andar ka haal bhi kuch behaal hi hai. I mean it's better than your local train but if you view taxis as an alternative to using your own car then hell! The hygiene and comfort levels just don't match up.

However, the taxi does manage to get you from point A to point B. In doing so, the driver will dart in and out of traffic, without a care for 'rules'. But that's India for you - things get done despite the general chaos.

And although the taxi itself may be old and decrepit, the driver is usually warm and friendly. Just like India, as a country.

Yahaan sab kuch theek to nahin chalta magar as most foreigners will tell you at the end of a visit "the people are wonderful."

Across the world
To extend the theory, let's take the Tokyo cabbie - hyperefficient, but completely impersonal and exorbitantly priced. Sounds like Japan to me. The drivers actually wear gloves ...

The Singapore cabbie is polite, hard-working and operates a very clean and efficient service. As the urban legend goes, they also act as informal spies for the government - so watch what you say in the back seat! So Singapore.

The Kuala Lumpur taxi is a fine car but the cabbie himself is rude and surly and may not take you where you wish to go. Just like Malaysia itself - a fine showpiece of a country from the outside. Scratch below the surface and you see the social fabric is certainly not made of lycra.

Bangkok taxis are cheap, cheerful and yet - Toyotas! Which kind of encapsulates Thailand - First World goods and services at third world prices.

London's traditional 'black cabs' are old and stately looking although comfortable and modern on the inside. The London taxi is a 'symbol' of a kinder, gentler era - just like the symbolic presence of a Royal Family within a democracy. How very British!

New York taxis, of course, are known for their polyglot driver population - reflecting a country that welcomes immigrants.
"Taxi cabs are both loved and hated by New Yorkers" says the NY.com website. Ditto America's sentiments towards immigrants.

The Crux
If a taxicab reflects the state of a nation, one can argue that changing the taxicab could potentially alter the state of that nation. or at least serve as an important symbol of 'change'.

It could soon be curtains for the yellow-and-black Premier Padmini cabs that have ruled the Mumbai city roads since 70s, to well into the 90s. Instead, one could well see the Singapore-styled wireless cab network where the operative words could be... "Make a call, choose your cab, and it is at your door.

The Fulora Foundation and the Western India Automobile Association plan to create a GPRS-run fleet management system that gives "real-time vehicle status, city-wide low-cost service stations and an emergency response system"

The blueprint allows for cab services to be differentiated into mini cabs, medium-sized cabs and luxury cabs, with different rates. This transportation model is expected to increase the demand for call taxis and therefore, the cabbies' income.

In an interview to the Hindu, Sanjay Ubale (Secretary of Special Projects, Govt of Maharashtra) observed that "Singapore had the same cab transport system that India now has. They changed and the drivers' income has seen a 20-fold jump."

That was 6 months ago. But black & yellow khataaras continue to rule. Mr A L Quadros, general secretary of the Bombay Taximen's union visited Singapoor, came back and declared,"Nahin chalega".

Nahin chalega ya phir hum nahin chalne denge? Quadros and co would rather eke out a living in cabs that will one day fall completely apart than switch over to more modern vehicles. Or use technology to unclog the roads of parked taxis and make them available on call instead.

The path to progress in this country must always be littered with protest. The taxicab's journey into the future won't be an exception!


  1. Singapore had the same transport system as India at one point of time. But when singapore changed the cab system, they also changed rules for car ownership and in a year, for personal cars, a limited number permits valid for 12 years or so have to be bid for and bought. And the bidding starts at around S $100000. Which is why personal cars are a rarity (and where there are personal cars, they are invariably merc's or bmw's )in Singapore and it is cheaper to use cabs(which explains the 20 fold jump in income). At the same time Singapore also enforces rates properly and cabbies dont cheat for fear of punishment unlike many cities in India(Delhi, B'lore, Chennai?) where cabbies and autowallahs have an absolutely free run in fleecing travellers in collusion with the powers that are supposed to control them.

  2. "...create a GPRS-run fleet management system.."

    Am nit picking but I guess you had intended to say GPS instead of GPRS. One is related to Satellite based geographic positioning and the other related to the Cell phone technology for transfering Data.

  3. very interesting! really enjoyed the 'across the world' part

  4. Good research, interesting article!

  5. Good one! I agree that the attitude of public transportation represents the attitude of the nation. In our case it is "chalta hai"!..of course exceptions exist and many times you come to appreciate as to how these things are running smoothly inspite of the lack of facilities/infrastructure...

    I commute via public transportatyion(bus)....yesterday the bus was all set to go from the main depot w/ the passengers having purchased tickets n all....suddenly driver mahashay examines the rear tyre and informs conductorji that the tyre might come off any minute...conductorji replies back saying "We'll see when it happens!!"...I only hope he was joking when he made that remark!....

    Oh well.....

  6. nice post.
    taking the anology further, the emergence of the 1929 and equivalent private cab services points towards liberalisation, the twin economy etc.
    and somewhere represents the old and the new, the public and the private, coexisting. The new offering better crisper service with a smile but the old, like the ambassador, having a charm of their own.
    Imagine buying a ford ikon and covinving your neice that it is the indian taxi - little romance to that

  7. what a wonderfull line of thought...awesome...

    *and then a fan was born*

  8. Hmm!
    What about the fact that auto-rickshaws convey our flexibility?

  9. Rashmi,

    I am a Mumbaiite and now in Kuala Lumpur. I'd disagree with you on the KL taxi. Maybe you have had a bad experience in KL. But I found KL drivers generally equal or better than Mumbai drivers in tolerance and politeness. And I still stand by the words I have written about Mumbai taxiwallahs (the first link you have given is to my photoblog). Given the hell that is Mumbai, these guys are the friendliest guys you can come across. And can be the rudest ones you have ever seen. Although I have seen more friendly ones in all my life in Mumbai.

    Meanwhile in KL--I have been here for 5 months now--traffic conditions are better off. Taxi drivers have a better standard of living (judging by their attire). However I have yet to encounter a rude driver in KL. They have high levels of tolerance. They are very enthusiastic about talking about Bollywood (yeah!) when you tell them you are from there. Every Malay/Chinese/Indian taxi driver I have talked to knows exactly four people - SRK, Sallu, Rani & Ash!

  10. And like the KL taxiwallahs, Malaysia is also a very friendly country. They are in awe of India for its vastness, diversity, IT prowess and cultures. i have spent hours talking and explaining about Indian cultures to my Malaysian clients, after office hours ofcourse. They enjoy all this over loads of roti chanai, the most consumed dish here, and fish curry. :-)

    And yes, the social fabric is very intact. Indians have been in Malaysia since the 14th century and our cultures have had a big influence here. One last example. Chinese new year, Deepavali and Eid are celebrated in a big way here. They call it DeepaRaya (Deepavali + Hari Raya, the Malay festival) since these two big festivals fall generally close to each other.

    Excuse me for the long comments. I am trying to change some wrong perceptions here.

  11. Likewise, Can the state of autorickshaw tell the state of a state in our country?

  12. I have observed AL Quadros from close quarters - I know his son personally, and i think he is a twat. Extremely painful man with an intention only to accumulate power and money from his taximen's union. till we get rid of him, taximen and bombay both are going to suffer.

    Bombay as it is has too many taxis of its own... and god knows how polluted the air wouldve been if they'd all stayed with their illegal three cylinder Diesel engines which were never serviced in their lifetime.

  13. Give her some creative licence guys (especially the M'sia fans). I've been in Singapore for 7 years now and can tell you that 4 of 5 cabbies are ALWAYS bitching about the government in a way so convincing that if they're spying for it, kudos for an act pulled off very well.

    Rashmi, its a point well made and the comparison does hold by and large. However, I'd say you can extend it to another aspect in the public domain and get the same result - compare electricity and its distribution for instance. I guess what I am trying to say is that each of these is a microcosm of what a nation is.

  14. hi i read your blog..you are a jam editor.. right
    which which flavour you provide in you jam juzz kiddin hi i startsed my new blog so link me. i am abhijeet rathod studin in BE IT MIT not america wala its pune based .. Check my blog here

  15. I once met a sardarji taxi driver in Athens!

  16. Give her some creative licence guys (especially the M'sia fans)

    Yes, I realised that sometime after I wrote the comment. I think I went off-topic and overboard.

    Talking about cabbies, I have a simple explanation. In all these places, cabbies represent the working class of the respective country. And the working class does represent a sizeable chunk of the population, the mentalities and social fabric, as we say.

  17. may be the taxies are bad.. but the best part of all this is the friedly and warm person driving those padminies ..
    from cricket scores to weather to road conditions or for that matter their child's education.. u can talk anything u want to with these peole.. and thats wat i like abt the taxi system in india !!

  18. As they said.."A man in known by the shoes he wears"..similarly A country is known by the TAXI it has....Time and again i have found talks on Mumbai goin on to be next Shanghai...and the first thing that comes to my mind is the difference between the TAXIs....anyone listening out there...i hope next time i find sth better to take me to BANDRA KURLA complex......

  19. My Experience for Mumbai Taxi and Singapore Taxi

    I came to Mumbai from Bangalore. It was the same heavy rain day when Air India Plane goes trouble while take off. I reached Mumbai 4:30 early morning and took taxi for Borivali. Taxi driver seem to be young guy. Initially he told me 400 Rs. from Andheri to Borivali. I agreed as it was raining and early morning. Then after 5 Min in the way Taxi driver stopped the car and started asking for 900 Rs. With him there was one more guy who seems to be his friend. I told them I don’t have 900 Rs. I will give u 400 Rs. Then they told me to give Dollars. Or come to ATM and give us money. Kind of robbing. I somehow gave 400 Rs. to driver, his friend got down from taxi and left. Now in the midway driver started problem that its heavy rain taxi wont go to Borivali. So I came out and took my luggage. Then I call Auto who was lucky on the road. We both fought with Taxi driver and finally I got 200 Rs back. I noted down the Taxi number and filed complain next day. 200 Rs is not a big amount but these taxi drivers are cheaters. Please rest of the junta takes care of these kinds of things.

    Now same day after some rest I started for Singapore and reached Singapore early morning near 5. I took taxi show him address and that guy came till my apartment to help me out in my luggage. I gave him tip also. No cheating. I came to Singapore for first time and I was so happy for this. Till today I travel by CAB here. People here always take sort route for home and so ethically doing their job. I am feeling so bad for India about this.

    Same things are going on in Bangalore too. As all Autowala & Taxiwala thinks everyone here are working in IT and coming back from US. So they are asking more money or US dollars.

    I personally feel there is no solution for these in India as because of IT and Globalization Rich and Poor gap is increased lot. So to earn money people will choose wrong ways.

    I love India. :-)

  20. I somehow always hate to call it the Taxi.

    I had a fiat... And the taxi's make me nostalgic.

    * sob * The first car i drove.

    Okay , getting back to topic...

    I wonder how the government would ever change the taxis.. twould be a tough job.

  21. u also have to take into acout the fact that taxi rides r so much cheaper in mumbai than in the other countries

  22. havent been in a taxi .. actually my city isnt accustomed to taxi culture .. here we have those TEMPOS .. usually called VIKRAMS [ nevr came to knw why they are called so ..possibly their owners name :) ] .. and they r also no so very comfortable with 4 people striving for one own butts space on a less accomodating seat. And if u ever see them driving .. u wud prefer taxis .. or rather u will praise them . Its a roller coaster ride .. they havent yet learned the trics of turning it upside down though.

    So its a bit similar story .. rather a morepathetic one . nice to read ur blog .

    And hey i have visited the JAMMAG site & registered as well. But i dont have a clue .. do u allow articles from outsiders ??

  23. and what of the dubai cabbie? or better, the sharjah cabbie?

  24. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  25. The situation is even worse in calcutta.... here out of 100 taxi drivers you'll find 101 are corrupt...


  26. Intresting thought...

    I agree about people of india (most of them) we are easygoing, ofcourse we have some lessons to learn but more to teach the wesetern world in terms of first being human.

    anyway TAXI CAB PROBLEM..

    How about converting union into a taxi-cab corp. I'm sure with their collective strenght and bargaining they can get the whole new fleet on loans. revamp the taxicabs and be co-owner of the company. They can do better for them selves and junta.

    All we need

  27. The Taxis of bombay are unique .It would make more sense to keep the body similiar and upgrade the technology with repect to engine and vehicle tracking and surely better interiors.

  28. And although the taxi itself may be old and decrepit, the driver is usually warm and friendly. Just like India, as a country.

    Agree totally! I once had a cabbie who lost his way in mumbai and didn't charge me for the extra distance. He swore he "never took people for rides."

    Hmm... Wonder how he nade his living then. :)

  29. I think it's pretty stupid to have to buy such an expensive permit for a car. I say let our dear cabbies upgrade to more modern systems at their own natural pace.

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