Only one fare display board for three prepaid taxi booking counters, located far apart and run by the Bidhannagar city police outside the Kolkata airport, causes confusion among fliers who are charged exorbitant rates by drivers and touts.
Many passengers who are unaware of fares or distances to their destinations after landing at the airport are taken for a ride.
On Wednesday, The Telegraph saw a taxi tout ask a passenger for Rs 800 for a ride to City Centre II in New Town. The average fare for the 5.7km ride is Rs 140.
A taxi driver in front of a prepaid counter asked a flier who wanted to go to Mullick Bazar in south-central Kolkata for Rs 950. The average fare is Rs 320.
There are three prepaid taxi booking counters outside the airport’s terminal building that are run by the Bidhannagar city police.
None of them could produce fare charts on Wednesday. Only one counter had an electronic board displaying the fares.
There is a fourth booking counter, for “luxury taxis”, that is run by Help-Line Transport and Car Parking Cooperative Limited, a private agency. Help-Line’s air-conditioned taxis are more expensive than the other cabs.
A prepaid taxi ride from the airport to the Punjab National Bank bus stop in Salt Lake, a distance of 12.2km, costs Rs 230. The ride in a Help-Line AC taxi costs Rs 520.
Help-Line charged a Kolkata businessman, who landed at the airport a few days back, Rs 780 for a ride from the airport to Park Street in the central business district. A prepaid cab ride would have cost him Rs 320.
The businessman said he first went to the prepaid taxi booking counter inside the terminal, which, too, is run by the police. But those at the counter said no taxis were available.
A counter run by a private taxi agency at the airport.Bishwarup Dutta
The situation was similar at one of the prepaid taxi booking counters outside the terminal that he visited. “Hundreds of people had queued up for taxis,” he recounted.
After several app cab bookings were cancelled, the businessman went to the Help-Line booking counter and had to pay more than double the usual fare.
Asked about their higher fares, an official of Help-Line Transport and Car Parking Cooperative Limited told The Telegraph: “All our cars are well maintained and have well trained drivers.”
A senior officer of the Bidhannagar commissionerate said the Airports Authority of India had let the private agency function and their rates were decided privately.
“Our fares are regulated according to the transport department norms. However, the private agency operating one of the counters decides its fares,” said the officer.
A passenger who arrived from Delhi on Wednesday said he went to a prepaid booking counter after multiple app cab bookings were cancelled.
“When I reached the counter, I had no clue about the fares. I learnt that it would cost me Rs 320 for a trip to Howrah once I told the men at the counter my destination. I had been asked for Rs 900 by a man who claimed he had an air-conditioned vehicle waiting and that there were no taxis at the prepaid counters,” said the passenger, Biswajit Ghosh.
A number of drivers and taxi touts wait outside the arrival terminal for passengers to step out. Many follow the passengers, quoting exorbitant rates, as they try to book app cabs or go to the prepaid counters.
On Wednesday, The Telegraph saw taxi touts operating openly in front of police patrol vehicles and fleecing passengers with impunity.
A civic police volunteer at one of the prepaid counters said they were aware that touts were fleecing passengers but claimed they could do little to stop the menace.
“They accost passengers the moment they get out of the building. Many passengers fall into their trap as they often tell them that the prepaid counters are shut or there are no taxis,” said the civic police volunteer.