The following is a conversation between a taxi driver in Kolkata and our staff correspondent. The identity of the driver has been withheld upon request.
Standing at Park Street – Camac Street crossing for over 10 mins at 5 pm, when I could not get any yellow cab I booked an Uber. Just then, a peeli-taxi-wala cabbie stopped beside me and asked somewhat angrily where I wanted to go. I said New Alipore. He said “Baitho” and sped off with me and my daughter in tow.
“Won’t you take the Harish Mukherjee Road?” I asked, as he started moving towards Red Road – a route that’s about 2 km longer that the H.M Road for going to New Alipore. I had cancelled my Uber ride by now.
“Madam, don’t do Khich-khich with me. Either go on the route I am taking, or simply get down and book your Olla (pronounced with that extra L in it) and go in it. I wouldn’t have taken you had I not noticed a small baby in your arms. That’s my mistake,” he said, highly irritated that I had politely requested him on the route to be taken as a rightful customer.
I asked him why is he so angry and on came a tirade that voices the plight of drivers of the fast-shrinking yellow cab fleet in the city.
Here are snippets of what he said on the 40 mins ride:
It’s election time. No cab driver in his right mind will take you to New Alipore from central Kolkata via Harish Mukherjee as en route falls Mamata Didi’s house. Traffic police is standing like Hawk in that area to give cases and charge peeli cabbie drivers heftily to fill state government’s coffers.
Who do you think pays the traffic police their salary? It’s we public transport providers. That’s one of the largest share of revenues for the state too – especially before elections – the figures run in crores every month.
Just yesterday I was given a case of RS 400 all because a Madam your age took ages to take out money from her purse after getting down from the cab in that area. Just as she paid me, the traffic guy came and fined me for waiting for two mins on that stretch! Bloody I did not even earn enough profit yesterday to pay this off.
It is for these excesses that the fleet of yellow cabs has come down to 17,000 today from 1 lakh 70 thousand in pre-Didi days. No one wants to ply these cabs. All are opting for Olla.
But even Olla, along with Tata and Maruti is cheating us. Even I have two Ollas. They had all floated offers for cab owners/drivers claiming it’s going to be more profit making for us. Initially it paid us well. But today, I hardly can save Rs.10,000-12,000 a month – after paying the installments of the car, the driver, the maintainence and other tid-bits. How can so much stress-taking result in this small profit? I will sell my Olla if this continues for long.
The only reason why one plies Olla today is that there is no jhanjhat of payment – you work, and at end of month the cheque comes to your house. Simple. But in this peeli gari I may earn RS. 20,000-30,000 in one month, while in another – if my car breaks down ever, there is meagre or no saving. It’s all equalled.
When was the last time the base fare for peeli cab was increased? About 8 years ago it was RS. 20 then to RS. 22 and now for about 4 years to RS 25. The diesel prices though have increased from RS 32 to RS 51 in these 8 years. How can a yellow cabbie bear this surge without losing?
Actually, riding Olla is what’s good for the foolish customers too. Fix rides fix price. No arguments – serves us well too. A client paid RS. 1700 for a ride from Theatre Road to Airport on Sunday – 27th March, the day it was India-Australia match!! Can you imagine? 1700? Surge pricing and peak hours! No tension of asking for money either – it got deducted from the clients account as he has agreed for the rates prior to boarding itself!
But Madam, don’t think I got a share of the profit made from this ride. Olla only pays me or the owner of the car the fix amount calculated on basis of rides taken a week/month. The entire profit – of over RS 1000 has gone to Olla’s account. Would anyone pay this much to a peeli gari?
All this while, I had been listening to him, as he kept on driving skillfully and turning back to face me and make his points. His accent made it clear that he hailed from Bihar but had been living in Kolkata since donkey years.
I asked him, “Why are you driving this cab if you have other cabs and this cab is such a hassle?”
This is what he said, before dropping me off …
I have been plying this cab from over 35 years. I live on Theatre Road in one of the most recognizable buildings on that road. My great grandfather bought the flat in that building by paying RS 64 only while he was a contractor in times of the British Rule. My children have been educated at St. Xavier’s School and are working with MNCs today….
It’s not me who educated them and paid for their books or tuitions… That old woman Mother Teresa did it for them. All I had to pay was Rs 100 every month for each of them. She was a good woman… I had been by her side so many times and she helped one and all selflessly. She did it all for my kids. Today you won’t be able to get your child admitted to St. Xavier’s even by donating RS. 10 lakh. Mine studied there for free.
I have a huge land on the bypass which I had bought at RS. 200 per kattah about 20 years back. But I won’t give up driving the cab as that’s how I started making a living. This is what has brought me along so far.
At one time I had a fleet of 8 yellow cabs. Then one day I got very irritated with the entire system and sold all but one at a go itself. Since that day I am driving this one cab. I will drive it till it’s permit is there – which is another 6-7 years, or, till it breaks down and I am forced to sell it off. That day, I am done with driving the peeli-taxi in Kolkata.