Buses in Pune: How the PMPML managed to clean up its act

PMPML: Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited, (Pune Metropolitan Transport Corporation Limited) is the Transport unit that serves the twin cities of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. It has been panned by one and all ever since its formation in 2007 for various reasons, from the valid ones like poor quality of buses, to the inane ones like bad looking buses.

My first interaction with buses in Pune began back in 1999 when I visited the city for the first time. Having lived in Bombay for a year, and having travelled in BEST buses then, Pune buses were a bit disappointing, to say the least. It was even more odd because there were buses marked PMT and PCMT. I used to wonder why the same organisation would have different names on their buses.

I soon found out that they were different entities. PMT was Pune Municipal Transport, operated by the Pune Municipal Corporation. It had seven depots, Narveer Tanajiwadi, Kothrud, Hadapsar, Swargate, Katraj, Pune Station, and Market Yard, with it’s head office being located at Swargate, next to the MSRTC Pune Division office. PCMT was the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Transport, operated by the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation with three depots at Pimpri, Nigdi and Bhosari.

The two of them operated independently, without entering into each-others territories except in rare routes, such as those to Pune Station and Wakad. Both of them had a track record for bad services, zero punctuality and rickety buses. In 2005, the Supreme Court made a recommendation that the two bodies be merged to provide better services, which the State Government ensured in 2007. Thus, on 15 October 2007, the PMPML was officially formed after it received its Commencement Certificate.

The major advantage of the merger was seen shortly after it happened. Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad were now treated as one large region, the Pune Metropolitan Area. If this move had to be compared, it can be compared to when BEST took over the Bandra Bus Company in 1949.  As a unified body, PMPML had access to funding from both the PMC, as well as the PCMC. The combined population of both cities and their JnNURM eligibility was an added bonus. However, the new body was partly autonomous, like BEST, thus it had to bear its own financial losses and neither Municipal Corporation was liable to bail it out.

It was just before this time that the PMT managed to acquire a few Volvo B7RLE (8400) buses for use on its planned Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). The BRTS, later renamed to as the Rainbow BRTS, was officially launched in 2009 by the PMC and PMPML. Unlike the Ahmedabad Janmarg, the initial line of Rainbow BRTS was merely a set of bus lanes with bus stops on the centre of the road. Basically, a replica of the Delhi BRTS. There was no off board ticket collection, no level boarding, nothing.  The route ran from Katraj to Swargate and then to Hadapsar. Bus lanes were built on Satara Road from the Katraj Octroi Checkpost till Jedhe Chowk at Swargate. This set-up has been partly disrupted due to the Jedhe Chowk flyover and Dhanakwadi flyover. From Swargate to Hadapsar, the BRTS ran along with regular traffic through Pune Camp till Racecourse on Solapur Road where it again got a dedicated lane. Today, enforcement is lax, and all sorts of vehicles enter the bus lanes.

A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML.
A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML. Image copyright Rovan Vaz, CC-BY-SA 3.0Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The old Pune BRTS uses Volvo B7RLE/8400 buses that belong to the Katraj Depot. This is the only time that I have seen anyone create openable windows on any Volvo bus. The buses have been badly maintained, are covered with paan stains on both, the inside and the outside.

The PMC and PCMC have been building a new Bus Rapid Transit System, this time, a proper one with Centre-stations, off board ticketing, et al, similar to the Janmarg. The PMC has built this along Nagar Road, connecting parts of Vishrantwadi, Alandi Road, Sangamadi, and Yerwada. The PCMC has built multiple corridors, mainly along the Aundh-Ravet-Kiwale and the Nashik Phata – Hinjewadi Phata routes with intersecting lines at Kalewadi Phata, Empire Estate and one major line along the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway from Nigdi to Dapodi.

A PMPML BRTS bus built by AGCL. These buses have BRTS doors on the right side.
A PMPML BRTS bus built by AGCL. These buses have BRTS doors on the right side. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

 

The PMPML ticketing system has been a rather controversial one. The PMPML started out with an eTicketing system in 2010 with a private firm called Vansh Nimay, which is known for running bus services for the NMPL in Nagpur. The system was similar to the one BEST and MSRTC had implemented with Trimax. However, there was one major flaw in the system that neither PMPML nor Vansh Nimay could do anything about. The system could not back up ticket sales and revenue data, thanks to both a technical glitch as well as a loophole in the agreement. Thus, Vansh Nimay got its commission for each ticket sold and the PMPML had no clue how many tickets were sold and how many conductors were actually pocketing the money. Subsequently, this was scrapped and the punched tickets returned, although this time, they were yellow in colour.

In December 2014, then State Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps, Shrikar Pardeshi, an IAS officer, was given the additional responsibility of Chairman and Managing Director of the PMPML. Pardeshi had earlier managed PMPML in July 2013 where he rationalised all ticket stages to multiples of ₹5 to overcome problems with returning change. This time around, Pardeshi took some major steps towards reform, and managed to get most of the PMPML’s grounded fleet on the roads. The PMPML had 160 odd buses that were lying in depots for want of repairs, but couldn’t be fixed due to lack of funds. He set up a bank account for PMPML to deposit 6% of the daily revenue for purchase of spare parts. In less than 3 months, Pardeshi increased the functional fleet from 60% to 75%, which is a major turnaround. He worked on improving schedules, drivers efficiency, as well as addressing staff concerns, including health checkups for them.  He stated in an interaction about his efforts to tie up with many NGOs and other bodies to set up a new website for the PMPML, and a proposed mobile app. He set goals and targets for revenue collections, passengers in buses, and advertisements. Unfortunately for PMPML, but fortunately for India, Pardeshi was called up to join the Prime Ministers Office as Deputy Secretary in April 2014. One hopes that he will create such a turnaround for the country in his new role.

In 2015, the PMPML announced a tie up with a Delhi based company along with the Central Bank of India to set up a new electronic Ticketing system. The system would be rolled out to conductors of the Pune Station Depot and then to others. These are expected to work similar to the ones in use by BEST in Mumbai.

PMPML, is now a better organisation, though it has miles [or kilometres] to go to reach the levels or efficiency that other Transport undertakings have reached. It needs more land for buses to park, better depots, better facilities for it’s staff.The Katraj Depot is the most profitable. Take a look at the Market Yard Depot and decide for yourself if it is worth calling it a depot.

PMPML buses at the Market Yard Depot. They are so rickety that they fly when they go over a speed breaker, and are called Udaan Khatara.
PMPML buses at the Market Yard Depot. They are so rickety that they fly when they go over a speed breaker, and are called Udaan Khatara. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Among various issues the PMPML still has to work on are; friendlier staff, more buses on schedule, cleaner buses, more buses to the outskirts. Route maps on bus stops, better bus stops, and bus stops with route numbers marked on them are needed.

Overall, I think PMPML has done a good job in the last one year, thanks mainly to he great capabilities of Srikar Pardeshi. With offers pouring in from firms like Asian Concierge to provide AC Volvo buses for free in lieu of advertising rights, similar to BEST, PMPML should seize them and make itself a brand name in the city. The PMPML has already lost a significant chunk of its revenue to MetroZip in the Hinjewadi region.

 

Have something to say about the PMPML? Feel free to post it in the comments below:

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[Story] Sherlock’s Day Out

This story is dedicated to my furry four-legged friend Sherlock, who has been a constant source of joy for the “hooman” he owns.

 

Sherlock was a bit upset. He had updated his Facebook status to: upset that the hoomans in the buses didn’t let dawgs like me enter today. He had a dream about driving his own bus one day.

A dog driving a bus named church. Ever since he had seen this image of a dog driving a bus, Sherlock wanted to drive a bus.
Ever since he had seen this image of a dog driving a bus, Sherlock wanted to drive a bus. Image copyright all rights reserved b-mcg, available on Flickr.

 

The sun’s rays broke through the curtains and hit Sherlock right in his eye. He woke up, quickly shaking himself, and started barking. He then stopped barking when he realised that he was probably waking everyone up in the morning. He wagged his tail as he trotted over to the front door. The humans had unlocked the door earlier, he observed. He stood up, opened the door with his paws and grabbed the newspaper. He kicked the door shut and took the paper towards his bowl. He spread the paper out and there it stood out in big bold letters; Corporation launches special bus for Dogs. Sherlock was stunned. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He barked loudly and woke everyone in the house.

His owner, or The Girl He Owned, as he liked to say agreed to take him out and got in touch with the authorities. Sherlock was given a special dog tag for his collar which would act as his bus pass. The initiative was that of one elderly gentleman living where his owners had earlier lived, known to most people only as Mr. Sir. Mr. Sir, unknown to most of his neighbours, was an Animal Psychologist who also ran a shelter for abandoned and abused dogs.

Sherlock was super excited when the day for his first bus ride came. He stood with his human at the Central Bus Station when the the bus pulled up. It was silver in color with the words Special written on it where the routes were normally written. The side of the bus had WoofBus written on it along with pictures of Scooby Doo, Snowy, Ruff and Snoopy.

It was an old Volvo B7RLE with its seats replaced with cushioned dog baskets. The front door was shut and a mini doggy toilet similar to those used at several airports was seen there. Mr. Sir appeared there and greeted all the would be passengers and the humans that they owned.

A Doggy Toilet at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. A similar toilet was found inside the WoofBus.
A Doggy Toilet at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. A similar toilet was found inside the WoofBus. Image copyright Bob Cromwell, all rights reserved. Image can found on toilet-guru.com

 

Now I’m afraid I can’t tell you what happened further, because I wasn’t there; but Sherlock, who right now is busy looking over my shoulder with great excitement will tell you all that happened once he boarded. All I can do now is provide you with an image of his ticket and then I’ll type out whatever he has to say.

Sherlock's WoofBus Pass for the day. Of course, this was clicked before he got it. When I got it at the end of the day, it was soggy.
Sherlock’s WoofBus Pass for the day. Of course, this was clicked before he got it. When I got it at the end of the day, it was soggy.

And now, over to you Sherlock:

Hullo Hoomans!

I am Sherlock, a dawg who gets fed fer bein’ himself. Woof!

I got into a bus and there was Meester Sur in his uniform, smilin’. He held out his paw, we shook paws, and he scratched me ears. He then took the eye-dee around me neck, and put it to his machine. The noises it made! I couldn’t help watchin’ with a tilted head.

Meester Sur smiled and went to the next dawg. After makin’ noises with eye-dees on every dawg collar, he went to a chair with big letters on it. D-R-I-V-E-R. Some scary, strange noises later, we were all movin’. Some dawgs peeked out the windows of the bus to bark at their hoomans wavin’ at ‘em, some clung to ‘em baskets fer dear life. I had taken a fancy fer the fire hydrant and tried to mark it as mine. A big black Great Dane dawg grrrowled at me. I stared at him, blankly. “Grrrr….”, he went again. ‘Em uptown dawgs think they own everythin’. I finished me business and  walked away, rubbin’ me feet on the grass, as Meester Sur pressed a button and there were sprinklers, cleanin’ up. I gave one look to the Great Dane and walked away, to me comfy little basket from where I could see out of the window.

Meester Sur stopped the bus at a three light pole when we all saw it. It took all of one second fer the roof to come crashin’ down on the bus. On the kerb, lickin’ its paws, was a Meow. Like ‘em dawgs on the street, it would not wear a collar. Sheesh! It looked at us, climbed the railin’ on the pavement and stuck its catty face against the glass of the bus. All ‘em dawgs barked like Meow was dinner. I was clearly mistaken. These are no uptown dawgs or downtown dawgs. We are just Dawgs, the kind hoomans use to call each other low-life. All ‘em cats should have their arses bitten, but that no reason why a dawg should leave his dawg-ners. Or “manners” as hoomans would have it. I am a well-dawg-nered dawg, yoo see, even me bark is sophisticated. I studied Barkology at K9 University.

Meester Sur then took us on the new highway from where we saw the beach. A hooman held on to two Golden Retrievers, busy talkin’ on her phone. I barked at ‘em, they returned back. If only…

But, we had just the day, and not an entire lifetime, so we drove along. Meester Sur stopped the bus. I raised me neck to look out of the window. P-O-O-C-H–P-A-R-A-D-I-S-E.   Meester Sur left and came back with some dawg treats. Just like the cat, the place was like a bunch of stray dawgs fightin’ fer biscuits when he threw it in the air. Dawgs, I tell you. While he was gone, I sat at the place that had D-R-I-V-E-R written in big letters. but he probably figured somebody would do that so took the keys away. But I got to sit in the front of a bus, at the driver seat. Half of me dream fulfilled!

Meester Sur stopped next at a place with big, shiny letters: R-U-F-F–T-H-E-A-T-R-E — Excloosively fer them dawgs. hence it was always a mess. So many of ‘em dawgs jumpin’ about and running! One stupid dawg knocked over me food bowl. How utterly dawg-nerless! I gave ‘em all a piece of me mind with some sofisticated barks. Thankfully, the show not ver long, otherwise I would not be able to bear them dawgs. We left, with Meester Sur and his machine makin’ those funny noises with ‘em eye-dees again.

We set off, this time, to our final destination, fer the day. P-A-W-S–L-A-N-D the first theme tree-lamp post-fire hydrant area fer us furry ones. I didn’t feel like joinin’ on any of the rides because of, well, ‘em dawgs. I instead found two nice hooman females with whom I had a nice Barkin’ Symphony.

Meester Sur then rounded us up, and brought us back on the bus, and drove us back to the Bus Station. I got off to see me hooman waitin’ fer me. I looked up at her and gave her the look. She told me that dinner was waiting. How kind of her!

Woof!

Sherlock can be found on Facebook, when he’s not with his hoomans.

This story would not have been possible without the help and support of Rohini, the hooman owned by Sherlock. Rohini can be reached at her page.

Unfortunately Sherlock is no longer with us. He passed away on the 28th of January 2017. His organs were failing, resulting in his sad demise. He turned 11 just two weeks ago. May his soul attain Moksh. Om Shanti.

Sherlock Phadké
Sherlock Phadké

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Branded Bus Services

Branding Public transport has been an exercise tried out by many transport bodies worldwide, to various degrees. Few have succeeded, while few have failed in this venture.

There have been multiple attempts by various transcos in India at Branding services. While Metro Rail services have had branding as an integral part of them from Day 1, the same is not the case with buses, as many of them have been in operation for several decades now.  Here, I shall attempt to break-down the branding used by our transcos, as well as try and understand some lesser known details about them. In the event you want to see how branding works outside of India, there is a research paper here.

Note, I have used the term CBD numerous times in the article below, for those who are unaware; CBD stands for Central Business District. It is invariably a part of the core city area where many offices exist. It is the equivalent for what Americans often refer to as Downtown.

A BMTC Big 10 bus on Route G1 in Bangalore.
A BMTC Big 10 bus on Route G1 in Bangalore. Image copyright Ramesh NG, CC-BY-SA-2.0, available on Flickr and the Wikimedia Commons.

The first time I heard of branding of bus services was in 2009, when BMTC launched the Big 10  and Kendriya Sarige series of buses. These were touted as a major change in BMTC services, and the way the public viewed the services. The Big 10 covered the main ten highways of Bangalore city, starting from the CBD, and were numbered G1 to G10 in a clockwise fashion. The number of routes has now been increased to 12. The Kendriya Sarige, or Hop-On, Hop-Off [HOHO] series, were Volvo buses in blue and orange liveries, doing clockwise and anti-clockwise routes in the CBD, with a flat fare. The HOHO was discontinued due to poor patronage and the buses were used on regular Vajra routes. The Vajra, and Vayu Vajra concept itself was the biggest branding that BMTC has ever done for its services. Branding AC Tata Marcopolo buses as AC Suvarna, to keep lower fares was also a good exercise. Post the success of the Big 10, the BMTC rebranded some of the 500 and 501 series of buses, running on Outer Ring Road, as the Big Circle series. Services were numbered C1, C2, et al. Similarly, the Inner Circle, numbered K1, K2, et al, was launched for buses on Inner Ring Road, and Chord Road. This continued with the silver-coloured Metro Feeder routes, and more recently the Big Trunk series, which is basically just giving existing routes a new, more complicated number [Which is easier; 360B, or KBS3A?]

 

A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML.
A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML. Image copyright Rovan Vaz, CC-BY-SA 3.0Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

PMPML experimented with branding back in 2008-2009 with the BRTS, also called the Rainbow BRTS, with the PMPML procuring Volvo B7RLEs [with openable windows] to run on the bus lanes on Satara Road from Swargate to Katraj and Solapur Road till Hadapsar.

A BEST Tata Starbus running on Fort Pheri 1, parked at CST.
A BEST Tata Starbus running on Fort Pheri 1, parked at CST. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, let us move on to BEST. The BEST launched it’s Fort Pheri services in 2011. The Fort Pheri is probably the first branded bus service run by BEST in ages. Unlike BMTC, BEST does not brand its AC services. In fact, the BEST AC services, have a rather bad image, thanks to the Purple Faeries. So much for branding. So, BEST took their aging Tata Starbus fleet, gave them a pseudo makeover of sorts by painting them with a Fort Pheri Special livery. Some buses continue to operate with their original Starbus liveries, but most of them have been repainted to say Fort Pheri  1 or Fort Pheri 2 in Marathi. These buses were procured in 2004, break down very often, and thus were shifted to the Colaba Depot which is close to the route of these buses. They charged a flat fare, ran in clockwise and anticlockwise circles, and were an instant hit among office-goers in the CBD. A good move to make use of the fleet which was otherwise bleeding the BEST in terms of maintenance costs. Shortly after this, the BEST launched the Fort Pheri AC service. Unlike their non AC siblings, these buses had no special branding, but thankfully were not the Purple Faeries either. BEST decided to run all six of its Volvo buses from Oshiwara Depot to Backbay Depot on AS4, in the first six departures, park them at Backbay Depot, from where these buses would operate on Fort Pheri 1 and 2 AC till 3pm, before sending them back to Oshiwara as AS4. The remaining AS4 and A74Express would continue to have the Cerita buses on them.

A BEST Volvo on Fort Ferry 1 -AC.
A BEST Volvo on Fort Ferry 1 -AC. Image copyright Superfast1111, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now that all the gyaan has been given, time to look at this whole exercise from a Marketing Point of View.

 What does Branding of Bus Services entail? Why must it be done?

To answer this question, let us take a take a quick look at high-end services offered by two intercity transcos: MSRTC and KSRTC.

KSRTC has branded its basic Volvo B7R services as Airawat, with the B9R being branded as Airawat Club Class. Further, the Airavat Superia is a B9R with a pantry and Airvat Bliss has a toilet. The newly acquired Scania buses are branded as Diamond Class. Similarly, MSRTC has branded its B7R services as Shivneri and B9R as Ashwamedh, and has retained the same names for the new Regular and Dual Axle Scania Metrolink buses as well. All said and done, MSRTC still carries the ST legacy. It is known as ST, and ST is an official part of the logo [in Devnagari]. While the Mahabus, and Shivneri services were launched as premium AC services, people still associated these with ST. However, that has changed a bit. Last year, when I asked a traffic police officer at Dadar for the starting point of Pune bound ST buses, he told me “You’ll not get an ST bus, but only a Shivneri to Pune“.

Similar to MSRTC being called ST, BEST also has a brand readily available. The name BEST is a brand in itself. Unlike other transcos, BEST itself is a brand name. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, TNSTC buses are referred to as Arasu Perundu which literally translates to Government Bus. Some transcos use a logo to identify themselves with, for example the Ahmedabad Janmarg, the Delhi Transport Corporation, Navi Mumbai’s NMMT, and even the BMTC. The BMTC logo is nothing but the Gandaberunda, which is a Mythological bird with two heads; used as a logo for most entities under the Government of Karnataka, even KSRTC and the other sister bodies in North Karnataka. Even BEST these days is seen with its logo, a bus inside a lamp, seen now as the watermark on tickets and often on the front of an AC bus, above the display.

Now imagine the following two scenarios:

  • You live in the suburbs of Mumbai. You rarely come down to Fort, simply because you don’t have to. One day, you make it to CST because you need to go to the National Centre for the Performing Arts [NCPA]. Would you rather take a Bus number 108, or a Fort Pheri 1?
  • You live in East Bangalore. You need to head to Banashankari one day. Would you rather take a Bus number 500A or a Big Circle C-1?

Thus, bus branding is an important exercise. There are several reasons why bus services must be branded, all with a marketing tactic behind it. Here are some of them:

  • The most logical reason why anyone would want to market anything: To increase the number of customers and improve revenue streams. With the advent of cab aggregators like Ola and Uber, buses are losing out big time.
  • To give a feel good factor to the commuter. Passenger comfort is crucial. In a city like Bangalore, a person may get out of a bus and hail a cab, or in Bombay, take a train, if the bus is not comfortable.
  • A higher fare. A branded service is a premium service, it can have a higher fare, like BMTC does with the Vayu Vajra series, which have much higher fares than the regular Vajras. There are exceptions however, like the Atal Sarige, again run by the BMTC.
  • Make optimum use of existing properties: BEST re-branded its aging, semi-retired, nearly decommissioned fleet of Tata Starbuses for the non-AC Fort Pheri, and the idle Volvo buses for the AC Fort Pheri. Similarly, when the Kendriya Sarige flopped, BMTC used the Volvo buses on regular routes to Electronics City and Bannerghatta.

At the end of the day, transport is very important, since our lives depend heavily on it. Not many of us are lucky enough to live close to our workplaces or daily commute destinations, and those of us who don’t, will end up taking public transport. When other things around us a branded, why not transport? If a person pays ₹180 for a coffee at Starbucks, instead of ₹20 at a roadside stall, he or she is doing it for the brand value. Similarly, one might walk in to a fancy parlour and spend ₹500 for a haircut, that the barber under the tree might charge ₹30 for. When everything else can be branded, and packaged as a premium item, why not transport? After all, a good transport system is not one that is used by all the poor people, but one that gets the rich to give up their cars instead.

Looking at BEST, it can certainly brand its services as premium, and offer a better travel environment to the daily commuter. BEST branded their Limited Stop Buses, plainly as Limited, and its Express services with the C-series of routes. It is now upto BEST to rebrand its AC services as well, as mentioned in the earlier post. Unlike BMTC, who branded Volvo and Corona services as Vajra and AC Tata Marcopolo services as AC-Suvarna, BEST branded all its AC services as AC, a move that MSRTC has also seemingly done. Unlike KSRTC, MSRTC treats the Shivneri and Ashwamedh on par and charges the same rates for the two.

 

I look forward to some interesting feedback from those who are in the marketing and branding scene. Please do leave your comments in the section below. If you liked this post, please do consider hitting the Flattr button below for some microdonation love.

 

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The changing face of Mumbai’s Taxis

Most of us associate a taxi in Mumbai with just one entity: The Black-and-Yellow Premier Padmini. I’m going to attempt to track Taxis in Bombay to their current scenario.

A black and yellow Premier Padmini Taxi on the Streets of Mumbai.
A black and yellow Premier Padmini Taxi on the Streets of Mumbai. Image copyright Ask27, CC-BY-SA 3.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

These cabs have been on the roads for decades and have remained the undisputed maharajas of South Bombay. They had competition from only one other entity; the Cool Cab. The Cool Cab is a better vehicle; often a Santro, Indica, or a WagonR. They are Blue in colour and air-conditioned. Naturally, their fares are higher.

A Blue Cool Cab on the Streets of Mumbai.
A Blue Cool Cab on the Streets of Mumbai. Image copyright Ask27, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Taxis first made their appearance in the city in 1911, to complement horse-drawn carriages. Traditionally, these taxis operate in the same way taxis operate across the world. The driver gets a Transport-Vehicle licence. Either the driver, or the owner buys the vehicle, approaches the Regional Transport Authority [RTA] for a commercial registration and a Taxicab permit. Then the vehicle is registered to one of the Unions operating under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Transport Authority [MMRTA].

Under Maharashtra regulations, a cab, like an auto cannot refuse a fare. As long as the Fare-Meter says ‘For Hire’ on it, the taxi driver has to take the commuter to their destination.

For years, these taxis [along with the blue counterparts] remained the primary for-hire service in the city, especially the South, where Autorickshaws are banned to reduce congestion.

The first step towards change, was in 2007 with the appearance of the Fullora Gold Taxi. The Fullora Foundation was an NGO that set up the Mumbai Gold Cab Company. Regular taxi owners were invited to join the company. The deal included the sale of their old Premier Padmini, getting ₹25,000 in hand, shares in the company, a new taxi as well as insurance. A move that the Mumbai Taximens Union vehemently opposed. Among the various reasons to oppose it, the Taxi Union stated that the plan would fail as they would not have a taxi stand and would operate round the clock. When launched, they had a fare lower than that of the standard Cool Cab. The fleet was composed of Esteems, Indigos and similar saloons.

A Fullora Gold Cab in Mumbai.
A Fullora Gold Cab in Mumbai. Image Copyright Mumbai Gold Cabs, All Rights Reserved.

The period witnessed a boom in private cab operations with other players such as Meru, and the all-women Priyadarshini and Forsche joining the bandwagon.

What did this mean for the Common Man in Bombay?

Private cabs can be called when needed. This eliminates the need to look out for a taxi stand. They are mostly monitored by GPS. This makes it easy to track the cab. What really made me happy is the advent of Women-only cabs. Forsche [now Viira] and Priyadarshini cabs. Giving women drivers opportunities, and of course, women passengers feel safer that way.

What happened then?

By 2010, the market was saturated with many call-taxi operators, many of whom had pan-India operations, such as Meru, Mega Cabs, Easy Cabs, TabCabs, et al. The regular black-and-yellow as well as Cool Cabs continue to operate today, as do the Gold Cabs. Somewhere in 2011 Ola Cabs appeared on the scene as a taxi aggregator service. This was followed by Uber and other services. Surprisingly, however, Mumbai was fifth on Uber’s list. Ola and its subsidiary TaxiForSure [TFS], later on tied up with autos to allow you to find an auto on the spot with the app. TFS also launched Tata Nanos in Bangalore, although these are yet to be seen on the streets of Mumbai. Soon, others such as Meru, and TabCab too, lanched their mobile apps.

The scenario today:

The scenario today is rather simple.  If you are in SoBo, you can hail a cab as easy as hailing an auto. Autos and Taxis, traditionally in Bombay have been honest, and rarely overcharge. However, if one is not carrying cash, then an Uber, or Ola would make sense, particularly due to the extremely low fares they charge from their users. Cabs, in the long run do help get user of private vehicles off the streets, but they are among the reasons why BEST is reducing its AC fleet. Its good to see technology being put to good use, for the benefit of the consumer, be it prepaid wallets and Mobile Apps for booking, or Prepaid RFID cards for buses.

 

 

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