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.
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!