Wednesday, August 19, 2015

City Taxis for Delhi- Why we need to be bothered

By Jayati Narain*

It is ironic that the autorickshaw, which was used by the Aam Admi Party(AAP) for much of their campaigning in Delhi, seems to be the same thing they want to take out from the streets of Delhi.



In the run up to the 2013 assembly elections in Delhi, the new and seemingly most promising party- the Aam Aadmi party, was lauded for their innovative campaigning strategy. Which involved actually involving the aam aadmi and using autos as a campaigning tool. A month before the election it was difficult to find an auto in the city without atleast a jharoo sticker or poster on it.

A year and half into the AAP government (putting together both times they came to power), their definition of who the ‘aam aadmi’ is seems to have dramatically shifted. Or it simply has seized to matter!

AAP seems to be on a mission to revamp Delhi’s public transport system. While change is definitely needed, their policies are more focused towards car users, even when dealing with public transport.
A number of national dailies reported on the Delhi governments’ new city taxi scheme. Going through any one of them points of the lack of details given about this program. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/New-taxi-scheme-to-provide-freedom-from-haggling-with-autos/articleshow/48519490.cms?from=mdr)

The new initiative launched regarding city taxis in Delhi, leaves much left to be answered for. In the press releases regarding this new program there seems to be a focus on replacing autos in the city with taxis. Providing taxi’s at a similar rate, making them a feasible option for last mile connectivity. Such a shift brings forth a number of issues related to livelihood, sustainability and road infrastructure.

The fundamental idea of promoting public transport is to reduce the number of cars on the road, and give way to systems that cater to a much larger number of users. The city taxi system seems to be adding more cars to the already congested roads of Delhi.
The government seems to be pushing for smaller vehicles, such as the Nano and Reva for last mile connectivity. In the case of Nano, the engine system is extremely similar to an auto so it is no more or less fuel-efficient then an auto. While this is good news for Uber, Ola and other taxi aggregators; who can utilise the legality of the "city taxi" scheme. The case for autos stand distinct and unheard.

If autos are to be removed from the streets of Delhi, what will happen to those who drive them? Will it be the same people who are shifted to these city taxis? A 100% shift seems unlikely as the license required to operate a 4 wheeler and 3 wheeler are different.

The crucial statement, which reveals much about this program came from transport minister Gopal Rai, "We hope to incentivize the use of Metro with the introduction of these taxis. Perhaps now people will use them to get to the Metro as four-wheelers will breach the psychological boundaries of travelling by an auto rickshaw" (Times Of India, August 2015). When he speaks of a ‘psychological boundary’ related to auto use is he referring to a class based barrier or a safety related one? In all likeliness it is probably a mixture of the two.
Thus, such a system seems most useful to those who don’t have access to a private vehicle at that time, rather then at all times. In this sense the Delhi government is essentially just setting up a system to compete with private taxi companies, while also setting the rules for them.

The main reasoning given for the need to replace autos has been the noncompliance of autos with traffic and meter regulations. Rather then addressing the fundamental issues of why this happens, the government has opted for setting up a completely new system. Without dealing with these issues, it is likely that any new system will soon start facing the same problems.  While several studies have been done regarding the issues faced by auto drivers, a simple conversation with an autowallah will reveal why many of them ask for more then the meter fare. Rampant corruption in the entire process of running an auto- from renting, getting a license and actually driving an auto, is one of the key reasons why the meter fare often proves to be inadequate. Every time there is fuel price hike in the market, it takes an auto strike to review the meter prices.
Since the AAP seems to have an ongoing battle with the Delhi police, calling them out on their harassment of auto drivers seems to be a much more useful cause then what rules do and don’t apply to the Delhi government.

The prices quoted and services provided by the new city taxi service seem possible only with a large-scale government subsidy. This raises doubts regarding the sustainability of such a program. While LCD display screen and alarm button will be a useful safety tool, what happens in the case of malfunctions? Will the government pay to maintain them or will that be at the drivers cost, as in the case of auto meters. Which is why many drivers don’t get it recalibrated after a price revision, opting to use a price chart instead.
This raises the question that if the government has the money why not improve existing facilities rather then building a new one.

Many of these issues don’t seem to have been dealt with the governments’ plan. Or if they have been, they have not been put forward in the public domain. A similar issue exists with the motorcycle rental scheme- will helmets also be provided, and if so will there be an extra cost for it.

The lack of details provided by the government raise several issues with this new scheme. While Delhi’s existing transport system needs many improvements, the government has chosen to do so by simply creating a new issue rather than addressing basic problems.

Following Mumbai’s lead in having a city taxi system, the AAP government has gone a step further, aiming not just to remove autos from parts of the city, but the entire city.

* The Author is Research Assistant at CPPR

The view of the Author or purely personal and does not in anyway represent that of CPPR

1 comment:

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