Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Delhi to Have 5,000 cabs before Games

In developed cities around the world, taxis continue to be the preferred mode of transport for tourists. Even those traveling long distances either take cabs or use them as a feeder to reach a Metro station or bus terminus since, unlike other modes, familiarity with the city and its localities is not required for traveling in a taxi.

In keeping with this view, Delhi government chalked out a plan to revive the near non-existent cab culture in the capital before the Commonwealth Games and the introduction of radio cabs was part of this plan. Today, there are half-a-dozen radio taxi operators in Delhi with a total fleet size of over 1,500 taxis. In addition, over 4,500 traditional black and yellow cabs are also operational.

However, one can’t hail a taxi from the road as is possible in almost all other developed countries. The radio cabs experiment did prove to be a hit — the cars are always booked and the waiting time for getting one could be as much as 40-45 minutes during peak hours. This has prompted the state transport department to expand the scheme. ‘‘Only last month, we opened the floor to more operators and also allowed existing radio cab operators to add more cars to their fleets. The permits for this have already been given out. The idea is to have about 5,000 radio cabs running before the Commonwealth Games,’’ said a senior official.

Fresh permits have been given to three of the existing operators, who will add 500 cabs each to their fleets. The decision was taken after the government was flooded with requests to increase the number of radio cabs. The target response time being looked at is not more than 15 minutes, and commuters will also be able to hail taxis from the road.

But even as radio cabs came as a major relief from the traditional taxis, there are complaints that their quality is deteriorating. The cars are no longer as clean and commuters have also started haggling with cab drivers settling for a fare less than the meter reading, on condition that the driver doesn’t give a receipt for the journey.

There are several operators, each having its own quality standards. To streamline this, the transport department is in the final stages of drafting service conditions for radio taxi operators. The government and traffic police also plan to train taxi drivers before the Games to impart basic communication skills, conversational English, courteous behavior and information on tourist places.

Autocracy Continues

Autos continue to be a sore point. There are about 55,000 autos, a number fixed by the SC and this, officials say, is the main problem for the mess —the number can’t be increased and the demand is very high. The transport department says the enforcement wing is short-staffed and with officials being deployed on other areas like BRT corridor, truck checking, Bluelines, it is not possible to check autos. The department has a plan to streamline the permit system and make it biometric. This way, records of all the auto and their owners/drivers will be updated too. The traffic police, too, are in the process of revamping the prepaid system.