Thanks, but no thanks, Calcutta’s taxi fleet apparently won’t give up its six happy hours of fleecing passengers for a 15 per cent “night tax” that most drivers find too meagre or bothersome to calculate.
“I don’t know about any night tax. If you want to board my taxi, you will have to pay double the fare,” Metro overheard a taxi driver telling a passenger looking for a ride till Santoshpur from near New Market a little after 10.30 on Wednesday night.
“But that’s illegal from tonight,” protested the passenger, family by his side.
“Who will get me a passenger on my return trip from Santoshpur?” the driver shot back. End of argument.
Many of the drivers Metro spoke to over the next two hours claimed they were unaware of any night tax on taxi travel within the city. The majority dismissed the 15 per cent surcharge on night travel as ridiculous.
A driver in his mid-forties standing in front of the Exide crossing around 11pm said he knew about the hike, but wouldn’t follow it. “What will I do with this token increase for late-night travel? This is the time I get to choose the passengers and quote my fare, based on the route. I can make up for the day’s losses in this manner,” he said.
So does the first-night-first-show flop mean the 15 per cent surcharge has died a premature death?
“This hike is useless. How many drivers will drive all night to earn some extra money, and how many passengers will they find anyway? The government should have raised the fare structure rather than announcing a nominal hike for night travel. None of our members accepts this hike and will continue to ply as usual,” said Bimal Guha, the secretary of the Bengal Taxi Association.
The 15 per cent night tax on metered fares between 10.30pm and 4.30am has been modelled on the system followed in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Jaipur. Transport minister Madan Mitra had promised while introducing the additional charge that commuters would not be refused a taxi ride to any part of the city, overlooking a die-hard habit among drivers that isn’t restricted to a particular route or time of day.
On debut night, Metro found drivers refusing — dismissively, in most cases — passengers just the way they have been doing all these years.
According to transport department data, around 30,000 taxis ply across the city and its adjoining areas. After 10pm, the figure drops to 8,000, leaving commuters at the mercy of drivers out to earn much in excess of the metered fares.
Regular night commuters say they pay Rs 30 extra on an average for every ride beyond 10pm, and not always to locations where the driver is unlikely to find anyone to ferry on the return trip.
“I am used to paying at least Rs 50 extra everyday to reach my Kalikapur home from Rabindra Sarobar Metro station at night. I had hoped things would change from Wednesday night, only to be forced to again pay Rs 50 extra,” said ad filmmaker Dwaipayan Dasgupta.