We are not against competition or providing better taxi services. In fact, we never had any objection against radio taxis such as Meru, TabCab and EasyCab. Our objection is only against 'illegal' private taxi aggregators, or mobile application-based taxi services, such as Uber, Ola Cabs and TaxiForSure.
Unlike black and yellow (kaali peeli) taxis and radio taxis, private taxi aggregators like Uber don't have the relevant permit or licence to operate in the city. We have a permit from the state transport department. Similarly, Meru, TabCab and EasyCab have been registered as radio taxis under the Fleet Taxi Scheme 2006. The guidelines for radio taxis clearly state that while these fleets can operate, the number of taxi permits in the city will remain fixed. They are actually using our (kaali peeli taxis) lapsed permits. They have bought these permits from us. These permits, which lapsed between 1997 and 2010, were transferred to Meru, TabCab, etc. So, there is a valid reason for the state government to regulate taxi permits.
But when you look at the private taxi aggregators, there is no fair play. They are operating without any permit or licence. The fare charged by them directly impacts us. Either you register all or none. We are not against technology as portrayed in the market.
The taxi aggregators are also engaging with players that operate under the All India Tourist permit. The tourist permit mandates that a journey must be for a minimum of 80 km or eight hours. We have no problem if they adhere to this 80 km/8-hour rule. But these tourist cab owners via taxi aggregators are doing short-distance runs within the city. They are killing our business. You cannot buy a rifle if you are given a pistol licence. Let these private taxi aggregators also take a licence for running taxi operations.
Today, our taxi fleets are monitored by the government. If the government wants to allow taxi services through mobile applications, then why are they regulating our permits? Our meters are sealed and checked every year in a government laboratory. Who checks the mobile meters of these taxi aggregators to see whether they are tampering with it or not? There is no transparency. There is nobody to see if they are indulging in any malpractice, while any traffic constable can stop us and ask hundreds of questions.
Look at the irony. Taxi aggregators can put as many taxis on the road as they want if there is demand, but there is a restriction on us or the likes of Meru. Why can't the government give us permits? In fact, the state government hasn't given a single permit for kaali peeli taxis since 1997. As a result, the taxi fleet has reduced from 65,000 to 45,000 in the last two decades. Ideally, the number of permits should have increased over the years to cater to the burgeoning population.
There is also a security issue with mobile aggregators. This issue came to the fore when a girl was raped in Delhi in an Uber taxi. It took almost 48 hours for the police to reach the office of the company. We also spent weeks trying to locate the Mumbai offices of these companies. The GPS network operates till the driver keeps the mobile switched on. The moment he switches off, nobody can trace him.
There are thousands of migrants who have put in their hard-earned money or borrowed from banks to buy a taxi. There is a livelihood issue. They will protest on the streets if the government treats them unfairly. We are planning to protest in Mumbai. We are getting support from other unions. We are all united and will continue our fight against taxi aggregators to ensure a level playing field.
As told to Anand Adhikari