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Taxis, Rickshaws Ply On Whim

Nivedita Pal | Mumbai

It was always considered uber to flag down a taxi or an autorickshaw if you were in a hurry in Mumbai. Taxis were cool, fast and friendly modes of transport. That is till they turned boorish, rude and outright obnoxious in their attitudes towards the commuter. So, what had been, for years, considered public transport for those pressed for time and rushed, turned into a sort of pricey service that couldn’t be depended upon.

“If he fancies, he’ll stop or else he’ll drive on ignoring you completely,” says baker M Tanaaz who stays at Versova and has faced inordinate trouble while dealing with autorickshaw drivers hugely reluctant to transport passengers for ‘short distances’.

Baker M Tanaaz
So, each time Tanaaz visited her friends in ‘town’ and had to travel back late, she would call a taxi-driver ‘known to her father’ and one who wouldn’t refuse to ply her back home to Versova. This went on for years till the arrival of the aggregator cab which could be booked through an app on her mobile phone. “Life is so much more convenient now,” says Tanaaz. Travelling by Uber isn’t without its own share of worries. A few Uber drivers aren’t exactly polite or decent for which Tanaaz has a “Safety App,” to handle inadvertent situations.

“I travel by train from Churchgate Railway Station in town to Andheri Railway Station in the Western suburb - a distance of about 30 kms in 35-40 minutes but take almost three hours to reach Versova - a distance of about 20 kms from Andheri Railway Station while travelling by road,” says Tanaaz. “It gets crazy travelling by public transportation in the stretch owing to the awry mismanagement of hawkers in the zone,” she adds. “Also, the existing overhead Metro line that plies the Metro trains from the Western suburb, Andheri to Ghatkopar in the East is a delight to travel by but for the traffic on the road below, it’s bumper-to-bumper movement,” she says.

The overhead metro has actually slashed travel time from three hours to a swift 25-30 minutes but transport for the public below the overhead Metro line has become an ordeal. BEST buses have to dodge the sea of illegal hawkers who have literally hijacked public space and held commuters and the entire city to ransom.

Taxi-drivers are a notorious lot. They simply refuse to ply to short distances even do not allow passengers to board their vehicles and ask them their destination before stopping their vehicles. And, in contrast have arrived the aggregator cabs that can be called from one’s mobile and ply anywhere at will and can even be shared.

So now, frustrated with taxis that (refuse to) ply in South Mumbai and the autorickshaws that (refuse to) ply in the suburbs, the Mumbaikar has been left with little option but avail the aggregator cabs through an app, considering for every Kaali Peeli there are three aggregator cabs.

Public transportation is at risk of complete breakdown in Mumbai. With the citizen complying silently with the aggressive privatisation of transport even giving up access to public zones, there’s little by way of hope. The BEST Buses may well be relegated to the city’s poignant past captured on celluloid by the Hindi film industry. Things do not need to remain the same. For that the state government will need to take the initiative and help bail out BEST, now on its last lap, clear the traffic mess threatening to engulf the city and hawker menace emboldened by political backing. The laws on traffic must be followed in letter and spirit to ensure that the city’s public transportation remains within reach and of preference for the common man. And that, to call for an Uber or use one’s private vehicle should remain an option…and not one of choice.

This report has been prepared for DraftCraft International’s flagship initiative The Public Space Project in conjunction with its pilot endeavours - The Right To Walk Project, The Gateway of India Project and The Elephanta Island Project to research, analyse and determine the rights of the common man, the pedestrian, the tourist and the rights of the masses availing public transportation in contrast to those privileged few owning private vehicles. The initiative examines laws and policies regarding transport, access to public spaces and privacy guaranteed to all by the State in context of the Right To Equality, Freedoms and the Right to Life.