What most taxi drivers do when commuters hail their vehicles, the taxi unions did when Madan Mitra made a request to them on Wednesday: refuse point-blank.
The transport minister wanted the unions to ask drivers not to refuse passengers. After being turned down, he announced several measures that officials of his own department predicted would not end the refusal menace.
“We have told the minister clearly that till the fare structure is revised we cannot assure him that taxi refusal will stop,” said Bimal Guha, the president of the Bengal Taxi Association. “Drivers have told us that they will keep turning down commuters till they find one they prefer.”
Representatives of five taxi unions had met the minister to press their demand for fare hike. Fares had last been increased in August 2009.
Mitra ruled out an immediate hike and announced the measures. The first was a helpline at Writers’ Buildings where taxi refusal complaints can be lodged. The minister did not say what action would be taken against drivers who are found to refuse passengers.
“There are at least three helplines where commuters can lodge taxi-refusal complaints. Complaints can even be texted and submitted online. The problem is not the absence of a control room but the absence of action,” said a transport department official.
Mitra also announced that taxi stands would come up across the city. “There is not a single taxi stand in the city that does not belong to any political party. We are planning to make such stands. This will help reduce refusals,” said the minister.
An official said more stands could mean more harassment for passengers. “Such stands would soon become hubs of political activity,” he predicted.
Mitra said his department was considering erecting pre-paid booths all over the city. “People can pay their fare in advance and board the cab,” he said.
The official offered a different perspective. “Passengers who take prepaid taxis from the airport often complain that they have to pay an extra Rs 50 or Rs 100 for the drivers to budge from the stand. If a passenger refuses to pay, the driver dares him or her to go to the prepaid counter and return the receipt,” he said.
Close to 37,000 taxis ply in the city and its suburbs.