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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Radio taxis: a long way to go
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Radio taxis: a long way to go

Radio taxis: a long way to go

Shyamal Banerjee/MintPremium

Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

In the 1970s and 1980s a standard feature of a Delhi colony was the taxi stand—a fleet of Ambassadors parked under a large tree in the colony with a landline phone number painted on the tree trunk. Typically, it was run by a hearty Sikh gentleman. Other cities may have variations of it, but the cab service people used to go to airports and railway stations was essentially local and accessible by just strolling over to the street corner. In mid 2000s that changed with the arrival of radio cabs. It seemed wonderful initially—air-conditioned, call centre, standardization—all the trappings of a smart, new Indian business. But some years down the line, customers are no longer impressed by these externalities. They are demanding that at the high fares charged, the service should be delightful, but it appears through a reading of consumer complaints that often radio cabs—no matter which one—infuriate passengers on various counts of non-delivery.

Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

About the booking and availability of the cab, he writes: “Let me share the consistently inconsistent experience with Meru in Bangalore. I travel on business and inevitably have to take a cab out of sheer paucity of better alternatives. Much against its professed objective of taking the orders for any pick and drop across the city, Meru doesn’t take orders which are within a distance of 10km, under some pretext or the other. Even if its online system does accept the order at the time of booking, surprisingly, in the last minute, the order is cancelled by just saying that ‘the cab is not available’." Meru’s service in Mumbai has come under severe criticism mainly on account of their refusal to ply unless it is a nice, long and lucrative ride such as Nariman Point to Goregaon.

A business is free to make its policies, but it should be clearly communicated. If radio taxis will only ferry passengers for a certain distance, they should state that clearly. Instead, customers wait for the taxi to arrive, then when it doesn’t show up, they desperately contact the call centre and hear unbelievable excuses such as “no taxi is available right now" or “the order has been cancelled". There are horror stories of people being stood up by cabs and missing flights or stumbling out of home with luggage and somehow making it to the airport on their own after the radio cab ditched them. One complainant booked a cab through Quick Cabs for his brother coming from abroad on Diwali night. He was told he would get a confirmation text message only 45 minutes prior to the arrival of the cab. Since no message came, he called the contact centre at 2am and found that the deal was off with only meaningless apologies offered as explanation. The cabs charge 100 if the passenger cancels a requisition, but the reverse doesn’t apply.

Drivers’ attitude is the other recurring grievance with radio cabs. Take it or leave it, we’re off to the airport where better prospects await us, is the general approach. “We have to negotiate with them gently to ensure that they don’t abandon us. It’s almost like pleading with auto drivers," says Srinivas.

A colleague of mine had hired Mega Cabs to drop his sister and niece to New Delhi railway station. The little girl’s large doll was kept in the boot and everyone forgot about it. A little later they realized that the doll had been left behind in the cab. The colleague called the cabbie who was not far off. He agreed to come back only if he would be paid as per meter. The bill came to 20, a petty amount which a quick call to a manager empowered with such discretion, could have been waived and great customer goodwill earned. A new taxi service, Super Cabz, in Gurgaon has identified that many passengers leave behind mobiles or bags in the cab and highlights on its website its special service of returning “lost property".

The other customer bugbear is billing. Srinivas points out about Meru that “Drivers, perhaps in the full know of the firm, have devised well-crafted reasons to avoid using the credit cards. Some of the reasons: a) you should have told us well in advance that you wish to use credit card; b) server is not working; c) we have swiped the card already thrice and cannot swipe any further; d) get another card despite a platinum card with sufficient credit available; e) network signals are weak though server is working." This one, I saw for myself last week while returning from the airport on a foggy Delhi morning. We didn’t have enough Indian currency and we checked with the driver that he would take credit cards. Yet, before we could realize, he had pulled out a bill and said that it was a done deal. He couldn’t swipe the card now, he said and wouldn’t budge till we scraped for cash to pay him.

Srinivas finds that the Cool Cabs of Mumbai and Cel Cabs of Chennai do a much better service on all these aspects with far less fuss. The ads in the local bazaar guides that are tucked into the weekend newspaper show that there are no dearth of cab service options, thankfully. The erstwhile taxi stand under the tree has also smartened up. It was clear when the owner of Sarathy services, a Greater Noida cab service (tagline “Life is a journey") came to our house with a box of chocolates on Diwali, since we once used his cab.

Vandana Vasudevan is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and writes on mass urban consumer issues. Comments at toughcustomer@livemint.com

Also Read |Vandana Vasudevan’s earlier columns

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Published: 06 Jan 2012, 01:15 AM IST
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