The taxi assistance booth set up in front of City Centre Salt Lake in April. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha
A taxi assistance booth set up by police in front of City Centre Salt Lake to spare passengers the hassle of finding cabbies who would ferry without fleecing has ended up benefiting the predator rather than the prey.
Amitabha Chowdhury was haggling with a driver last week over the excess fare he was demanding for a ride to Sector V when a Green Police volunteer quipped from inside the booth: “Give him what he’s asking for if you want a taxi from here.”
The young man walked away to find another taxi, shaking his head. “I thought the driver’s demand for a Rs 100 for a 2km ride to Sector V was absurd. But it was nothing compared to the advice I received from someone deployed in a police booth to help passengers instead of greedy taxi drivers,” Amitabha recounted.
It isn’t the only instance of cops and volunteers of the Bidhannagar City Police allegedly siding with the very taxi drivers they are supposed to rein in.
“The drivers are rude and invariably demand more than the metered fare. Whenever I have complained to the cops in the booth about a cabbie, the advice has been to try another taxi or find one somewhere else. I now prefer to negotiate with the drivers instead of going to them for assistance,” said Nita Agarwal, a frequent visitor to City Centre.
The booth was set up last April as part of the plan to convert the area opposite the entrance for taxis at City Centre into a taxi bay. Taxi drivers are required to register their vehicle registration numbers and passengers need to visit the kiosk, where a team led by an assistant sub-inspector would assign them a vehicle each.
Going by the rules, taxis are barred from picking up passengers from anywhere around the mall other than the dedicated bay. If a driver refuses to ferry a passenger, the officer on duty is empowered to impose a fine of Rs 100 and seize his driving licence.
But five months since the system kicked in, passengers say the search for a taxi has become tougher. There are now fewer taxis in the bay and more in the illegal stands near the mall. The assistant sub-inspector who is supposed to be manning the kiosk is nowhere to be seen, leaving the booth to a few Green Police volunteers who are seemingly happy to help the taxi drivers instead of the passengers.
A private guard from the mall is often on duty on the road in front, shooing away taxi drivers who park their vehicles there or slow down to pick up passengers who will pay a premium.
“The drivers don’t listen to us. Earlier, a policeman used to be posted here and a senior officer would occasionally visit to check how the system was working. We now record taxi refusal complaints and try and keep the traffic flow smooth,” said a volunteer who did not wish to be named.
At least 20 taxi refusal complaints are recorded at the booth daily. They are all forwarded to the traffic department headquarters of the Bidhannagar City Police.
“I did not know that passengers are refused at the taxi stand and that our volunteers ask them to pay whatever the drivers demand. I will run a check and take immediate action if the allegation is true,” promised deputy commissioner (traffic) Pranab Kumar.