It's International Women's Day, which means the papers are full of stories about 'how-far-we-have-come' and 'what-a-long-way-left-to-go. And of course, the 'glass ceiling'.
One of the more unusual features today was the launch of a taxi service of, for and by women in Mumbai. The person behind is 47 year old Revati Roy, a former rally driver.
Mid day reports: The women-only service called Forsche (pronounced as ‘For-she’) has a fleet of 15 cars (like Santros and Indicas), which, among other things, offers graduate English-speaking women drivers.
Every taxi will also pamper its women clients with vanity mirrors, make-up kits and personal hygiene products. More so, every car will be equipped with a global positioning system for enhanced security and convenience.
Launching an all-woman cab service on Women's Day is a good idea. It makes a great story and just about every news factory has prominently covered it. However, I am a little ambivalent about the need for such a service. And more so, in Bombay.
I've travelled by cabs at all hours - including past midnight - and never felt unsafe. Of late, there are instances of cabbies overcharging. But generally, if you know what the fare should be and are firm about it, they back off.
I usually scan the available taxis for an older looking or Sardarji driver. In my experience they are more honest. But with any kind of Mumbai cabbie, 'indecency' I am yet to come across.
So frankly, I would not be keen to pay a big premium for hiring a taxi driven by a woman. In fact at the rates Forsche is charging I am wondering who will hire these cabs? Rs 4000 for 8 hours is a lot, given that the regular rate for an a/c Esteem, is Rs 1000 for 8 hrs. There may be a few takers in hotels and corporates but how scalable is the business?
What's more the operating hours right now are only 8 am to 8 pm. I mean even if I were to feel unsafe the problem would occur late at night, wouldn't it?
On the other hand, I am all for the GPS navigated taxi services - like they have in Singapore. I don't really care whether such a taxi is driven by a man or woman. As long as it's clean, reliably driven and available on demand.
I used such a service in Delhi recently. It's called Easycab. All you do is dial 43434343, give your location and within 15 minutes an Easy Cab is at your doorstep. There's another similar service in Delhi for which you have to dial 1929. I am yet to try it but a friend was quite satisfied -except for the Rs 6 a minute they charge when you call up. No such hassles with Easycab.
Now of course Delhi-ites generally have numbers of taxi services by-hearted. And the local stand ka taxi may work out cheaper. But for a baaharwala Easycab is a God-send. The taxi I got was an Esteem - clean, air conditioned and with a uniformed driver. The rate is a flat Rs 15 per km, visible on a reliable digital meter and the driver is extremely polite. Honestly, I felt safe and relaxed in a Delhi cab for the first time ever. And I am not surprised to learn from Tech2 that:
Chauffeurs for EasyCabs have been recruited after conducting four verifications (which included police, bank and two personal verifications). They also had to undergo a multi step process which included various tests such as written, spoken, attitude, psychology, road knowledge and behaviour.
Easycab will soon be launching in Hyderabad and also has Mumbai on its radar. The company plans a fleet of 5000 cars in Delhi and 10,000 in Mumbai - and I am sure there will be initial resistance but eventually they will achieve that.
The smart thing to do perhaps would be to integrate the Forsche service within a larger umbrella like this. Male or female driver? Quite irrelevant - it's the brand that needs to stand for safety, value and comfort.
Lastly, Forsche recruited drivers from an ad it placed in Mid-day a couple of months ago. Apparently a range of women applied. Says Ms Roy:
“While Prabhjyot Kaur (57), a grandmother and graduate in economics and sociology will be our oldest driver, the youngest in my fleet of taxis is Rajashree H (32), an electronics engineer from BITS Pilani.”
I'd dearly love to meet this engineer and ask... why?