The Telegraph
 
CIMA Gallary

Cab cat none wants to bell

Do we have what it takes for a smooth ride?
A taxi driver exhorts his colleagues to continue the agitation at a protest rally at Esplanade last week. Picture by Tamaghna Banerjee

Calcutta, Aug. 11: Taxis were off the roads in Calcutta on Monday and are unlikely to be back on Tuesday.

The majority among 32,000 taxis were off the roads today as many owners and drivers are protesting what they describe as “police excesses”. More protests have been lined up for tomorrow. (See Metro)

The police have been cracking down on cabbies refusing passengers, slapping a fine of Rs 3,000 or seizing licences on the spot if the fine is not paid. Over the past month, at least 300 drivers have been fined, and the public vehicles department has cancelled the permits of 40 taxis.

The cabbies are not popular — to put it mildly — as most Calcuttans have one experience or the other of being mistreated by them. “Refusal” in an emergency is almost a given in the city. The Telegraph has published several reports highlighting the plight of commuters in the city.

Conversations the reporters of this newspaper have had with taxi drivers and owners and mechanics over the past two weeks have thrown up a complex situation. The root cause appears to be economic, from which are springing attendant problems that often snowball into law and order issues.

The following is the information the conversations have thrown up.

How does taxinomics work?

The following calculations have been done on the assumption that the driver is not the owner.

Daily income

Average distance covered by a taxi during a 12-hour daytime shift in Calcutta: 160km

Average distance covered during a 12-hour daytime shift with meter ticking: 133km

Average distance covered during a 12-hour daytime shift without a passenger (including distance travelled to and from the garage): 27km

Daily fare earned by plying 133km: Rs 1,663

Daily fare a driver would have earned if the taxi had passengers throughout the 12-hour shift, i.e. it plied 160km with passengers: Rs 2,000

Daily expenditure

Fuel requirement for a 12-hour shift: 13.5 litres (mileage around 12km/litre)

Expenditure on diesel for a 12-hour shift: Rs 854

Payment to the owner of the taxi: Rs 450

Petty fine: Rs 67

Sundries (parking fee, union fee): Rs 20

Daily total: Rs 1,391

Earnings

(Income minus expenditure)

Daily income without passengers for 27km: Rs 1,663

Daily income with passengers over 160km, including 27km: Rs 2,000

Expenditure: Rs 1,391

Daily earnings

Without passengers for 27km: Rs 272

With passengers over 160km, including 27km: Rs 609

The figures suggest the earnings more than double if the cab has a passenger whenever it moves — an ideal situation that rarely happens.

Why do many cabbies refuse passengers?

Many exasperated passengers say several cabbies are rogues and they relish turning down people.

But most cabbies say they ask passengers their destination and start making a mental calculation to figure out how many kilometres he may have to travel without a passenger on his return journey before deciding to say “jabo na”.

● They try to go only to areas where they would get passengers for a return journey.

● At night, cabbies tend to move only towards their garage.

● They try to avoid Howrah station and the airports which have prepaid taxi counters. At prepaid queues, they have to sometimes wait and can't choose passengers, according to the cabbies, although they are not supposed to “choose”.

The following example shows why cabbies avoid routes where passengers are not guaranteed on the way back.

Fare from Esplanade to Barasat (30km): Rs 375

Expenditure on fuel: Rs 159 (@12km/litre)

Income from trip (without considering other expenses): Rs 216

Expenditure on fuel if the taxi has to return empty (60km round trip): Rs 318

Income from trip if the taxi has to return empty (without considering other expenses): Rs 57

If there is a 15 per cent night charge, the income even if he has to return empty: Rs 113.25

Is there a night charge in Calcutta?

Yes but only on paper. There is a 15 per cent night charge, which is meant as a cushion for empty returns. But both cabbies and commuters said they were unaware of it. Sceptics feel that the cabbies are feigning ignorance as they charge as much as they want at night. Several passengers asked that if there was a separate night charge, why was there no separate fare chart.

What is the way out?

The Trinamul government has called taxi drivers on Wednesday to explain to them why a crackdown is needed.

The CPM’s Citu, which has jumped into the fray, wants the crackdown to be stopped immediately.

The passengers say they are suffering either way. So a way has to be found to bring the fleet back on the roads and ensure the cabbies follow the rules.

What is nobody saying?

That taxi refusals should be “disincentivised”. In plain language, it means the unpopular option of taking a fresh look at the taxi economics and raise fares/charges if needed. Diesel is no longer so heavily subsidised. Besides, the figures above do not take into account depreciation — the cost of wear and tear.

Taxi fares in Calcutta were last revised in 2012 when the diesel price was Rs 50.29. Now, a litre of diesel costs Rs 63.22 in the city.

Every Calcuttan knows what befell Dinesh Trivedi when he tried to “rationalise” train fares.

How do Delhi and Mumbai fares compare with those in Calcutta?

In Delhi, the fares are higher. It takes Rs 25 to travel the first kilometre, while you can cover 2km for the same amount in Calcutta. Subsequently, it is Rs 14/km in Delhi and Rs 12.50 in Calcutta.

Mumbai is closer to Calcutta: Rs 21 takes you 1.5km while every subsequent kilometre costs Rs 12.35. Both in Mumbai and Delhi, the night charge is 25 per cent of meter fare — against Calcutta’s 15 per cent. The night charge kicks in between 10.30pm and 4.30am in Calcutta. In Delhi, night charges apply from 11pm to 5am and in Mumbai, from midnight to 5am.

In Mumbai, where the fares are closer to those in Calcutta, taxi refusal is a problem. But it does not hurt people as much as it does in Calcutta because Mumbai’s suburban rail network bears the maximum load.

Not to mention the auto-rickshaws that run on meter. Public transport is so rickety — some would say non-existent — in Calcutta that cabbies are the backbone.