Towards a safe, reliable taxi service
to any developed city in the world and you will find one thing you
cannot miss: a safe, reliable, comfortable taxi service. I have taken
the taxi in many cities around the world and experienced firsthand the
value of having a good taxi service.
Taxis are so numerous in cities such as Tokyo, Singapore and New York
you can hail one on the street, call one up or wait a couple of minutes
at a designated taxi stop to get into one.
The taxis are air-conditioned, fairly comfortable, metered and the
drivers are knowledgeable and mostly courteous. The fares are reasonable
too. Some will even drag you into a long conversation depending on the
length of the journey. Of course, there are some who will try to rip you
off by taking a longer route, but these instances are few.
On the other hand, what do we have here ? A large number of three
wheelers are used as taxis and more are being added to this fleet at the
rate of 300 a day when they are being phased out from the few cities in
other parts of the world where they still operate. There is no dispute
that three wheelers provide self employment or employment to a large
number of youth, but the industry itself is largely unregulated.
Most three wheeler drivers even do not possess a valid driving
license. They are mostly indisciplined, rude to their passengers and
oblivious to road rules. A large number of accidents are caused by
reckless three wheeler drivers who rank on par with private bus drivers
when it comes to breaking all known road rules.
Most taxis are also not metered, which leaves ample room for fleecing
hapless passengers. Overloading is another favourite pastime of three
wheeler drivers a three wheeler is designed for four people including
the driver, but we have seen eight people (with luggage) in three
Letís face it, three wheelers are also not all that safe in the
unfortunate event of an accident. People have been killed when three
wheelers overturned when driven at high speed. Environment-wise, the
presence of a large number of two stroke three wheelers is distinctly
unhealthy. Thankfully, only four stroke three wheelers can be imported
To their credit, the authorities have taken some steps to regulate
the industry. Some three wheeler taxis are now metered. They also
display police/local body authorization badges and contact information
for the driver(s). These are steps in the right direction. But the truth
is that Sri Lanka has enough and more three wheelers now. The market
seems to be saturated.
Sri Lanka is aspiring to become a leading Asian powerhouse and three
wheelers somehow do not fit this picture. We require a safe, reliable,
comfortable car-based islandwide taxi service. It is in this context
that we should welcome the launch of Nano Cabs, which will be using a
brand new fleet of Tata Nanos for an islandwide taxi service.
While a few other companies have radio taxi cab services that use
bigger cars, this promises to revolutionize the local taxi industry
through several innovative features which should be emulated by the
other operators. We hope that this will mark the start of a new phase in
Sri Lankaís transport sphere.
First, the cars fit our transport landscape ideally. They are small
but spacious and have a lower fuel consumption, which makes it possible
for the operator to offer lower fares. Indeed, the published fares are
equal to those charged by metered three wheelers.
It is not hard to guess which kind of taxi the passengers will
select. They can be called up or hailed on the road. They also have
accurate meters and GPS navigation systems. Finding addresses will be a
breeze, even if both the driver and passenger(s) do not know exactly how
to get there.
They also have two-way radio facilities, which will come handy in an
emergency. In another landmark development, the drivers will also accept
credit card payments as in most other countries. This is especially
welcome, because most people dislike carrying large amounts of cash in
The passengers are also insured for a hefty sum can any three wheeler
beat that ? Moreover, the drivers are said to be courteous professionals
with a good knowledge of city roads and proficient in English and
The only thing missing (as far as we know) is an information display
giving the driverís photograph, name, address, ID number and contact
number in addition to the operatorís hotline/contact numbers. This is a
must, especially if a passenger wants to make a complaint regarding the
fare, driverís behavior etc.
Another praiseworthy move is the recruitment of women drivers. This
is the first time that female drivers will be manning a taxi service in
Sri Lanka. This will naturally be very reassuring for lone female
And we are way too late most other countries have been employing
women as drivers of buses, taxis and trains for many years. Ironically,
we have women pilots at SriLankan Airlines but no woman has taken the
wheel in a land-based transport service until now. Again, this is a
pioneering move that the other taxi operators should follow.
The authorities should encourage the taxi operators perhaps by
granting duty concessions for the import of brand new taxi cabs and
further tax concessions. Several operators are already using fuel
efficient hybrid cars as taxis.
This should be encouraged further. The operators should also be
encouraged to procure locally manufactured cars and accessories. Three
wheeler drivers should also be encouraged and trained to migrate to the
car-based taxi services.
In the grand scheme of things, a good taxi service is a sine quo non
for a country that seeks to rise to developed ranks. Letís not forget
the fact that taxis are a prime component of a good public transport
system. Hopefully, in another decade or so, Sri Lanka will have a
world-class car-based taxi system whereby you will be able to catch one
easily anywhere, anytime just like with todayís three wheelers.