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Sunday, 12 June 2011

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Towards a safe, reliable taxi service

Go 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 wheelers.

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 now.

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 public transport.

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 Sinhala/Tamil.

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 passengers.

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.

 

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