I am retired, but then I work for my living - with a difference! After working for over four decades at the disposal of time, I now have the luxury of working on my time. For my local outings, I drive my own car, but once the cab aggregators Ola and Uber downed their prices on cab rates, I am more inclined to be chauffeured than drive myself.
So on 14th April, 2017, the Tamil New Year day, I was on my way to Chennai City Centre and my business there was at 6.00 pm. Weary of parking issues on a holiday, I had requested for a ‘Shared-Cab’ at about 4.30 pm with ample time to spare and buffer any traffic issues. The mobile alert said that my cab is due in about five minutes. I locked my apartment and sauntered down to the gate to board the cab which arrived after a minute of my reaching the gate. It was already occupied by an elderly lady and lightly made up, buxom, girl in her early 20s or so.
I occupied my seat and the cab started on its trip. I noticed that the girl in the back seat was speaking to some person over her mobile phone and that she did not make any efforts of keeping her voice low or concealing the contents of her conversation or her emotions. About a mile later, the elderly lady dropped off and only the two of us passengers and the cab driver continued on.
Now the girl’s conversation, started taking interesting turns with vivid description of how she was drunk the previous day and how she went on a sandwich job with two guys and how she enjoyed it. From her conversation, which we could not help from overhearing, it appeared that she is a supporting actress in south Indian films (earlier they were referred to as ‘extras’) and she is living a carefree life. She was criticizing the personal mannerisms of some well-known film stars and was giggling while narrating. The conversation that continued was erotic at the maximum and exciting at the minimum. I was not sure for whose benefit this conversation was taking place. Is this a new way of enticing and soliciting? Looks like, I have to learn some new tricks in packaging and marketing field.
Now, believe me, this conversation kept on non-stop for at least next 40 minutes till she got down, ostensibly to visit a ‘client’, at MRC Nagar (such an upmarket and posh area of Chennai, that after all my years of work, I doubt whether I would be able to even hire an apartment, let alone own one).
After she got off, I had requested the cab driver to let all the window glasses down to allow the ‘energy’ created by her to be diluted by fresh air and asked him how could he drive with concentration while listening to such ‘lively life stories’. He said that comparing to what he experiences regularly what we have seen or heard is nothing. He said that it has become quite common to see, nowadays, especially during the night drives, girls, with or without escorts, being drunk or pretending-to-be-drunk, being scantily dressed or sometimes losing their clothes or sometime wearing clothes in the cab in a hurry and all sorts of rot happening in the back seats.
If despite such ‘attractions’ er distractions, the Chennai drivers are able to be heads above shoulders in cab related crimes, when compared with several other cities in the country, I have to salute their self-restraint and discipline. Apparently knowingly or unknowingly they follow a regional political party of Tamilnadu’s tenet ‘Kadamai’ (Duty), ‘Kanniyam’ (Integrity) and ‘Kattupaadu’ (Discipline)!
If all the drivers across the country are as self-restrained as the Chennai cab drivers, perhaps Ms. Kalyani Prasher would not have found material for her article ‘Sharing is Daring’ (9th May, 2017, The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/sharing-is-daring/article18414471.ece), that has inspired this blog of mine now.
I was introduced to sharing a paid local conveyance in Kolkata in 1999 when I used to commute in shared auto-rickshaws (Tuk-Tuks in several countries) where from Tangra Crossing to Park Circus, I just needed to pay Rs.5/= There is no bargaining or any hassle with the driver or with the co-passengers. These autos used to travel from one point to another and always in the designated tracks only, like blinkered horses.
Later, the introduction of cheap priced car vans found ‘shared-autos’ of a different variety, across many cities in the country, which also have eased the burden of costs as well as the vagaries of travelling in a public transport. However, the greed of many of these shared-auto drivers saw that passengers were being packed like sardines on some busy routes, and that was when the ‘air-conditioned comfort’ of proper cabs by the aggregators stepped in.
I have to say that the term ‘air-conditioned comfort’ is a deceptive description and not applicable to all cabs, as many of the cabs plying on Chennai roads are vehicles made out by a highly respected and visible, century old traditional business house of India, but which have the most inefficient air-conditioners fitted on to the cabs. In summer it is ‘mid-day’s nightmare’ to be cooped up in such cars where even the AC kept at maximum hardly provides relief. Assuming that the cabs are not maintained well, the pity is that even new cars introduced into the trade hardly perform and provide any succour in the sweltering heat. Every time I see that I am drawing this model of the cab, I cringe, but can’t do much as I can be penalised for cancelling a cab and even if I do so, there is no guarantee that the next car could be of a different model. I wish that the aggregators would find a way of giving a choice of model of cars also, apart from the present Micro, Mini, Sedan, Prime and SUV, so that the passengers can choose a comfort suitable to their pocket.
Occasionally there are also some irritating factors, but thankfully not regularly, in hiring cabs from the aggregators. One of the aggregators seems to have tinkered with the Mobile App that nowadays the share-cabs need not necessarily pick passengers in the line of a particular route but can take detours upto 4-5 kms radius and sometimes, back and forth too. And then there are those drivers who wish to listen to atrocious and loud music which is an excuse for music – maybe I am getting old and out of fashion and that the youth prefer such incomprehensible, irritating sounds and noise as music. The new generation seems to have given an entire new definition to melody. And then you have drivers who keep their own private conversations on the mobile phone while driving
Except a rare driver who is irritated with himself, his passengers and his profession, that he takes it out on the roads by irresponsible honking and driving, most of the drivers are nice, polite and do their job well. Over hundreds of rides so far, I think I gave adverse ratings to only two or three drivers.
There are graduate drivers. I have been driven by engineering students who drive cabs part-time (talk of dignity of labour) to augment income for their studies and expenses and then there are also fully graduated engineers who could speak reasonably good English and who always refuse a tip. There are cab owners running small fleets, but who have attached their cars to the aggregators, who also drive to understand the pulse of the trade and the passengers’ new thinking.
In general, I like sharing a cab and shall continue to do so till the services are offered. But I have this lurking feeling that like ‘everything shall pass’ this mania of sharing-a-cab or even the cab aggregation may see a dip in the business soon due to two reasons.
If innovation is one, the other is the stress these drives are creating on the drivers and their lives. I am not a psychologist or a physician, but as an experienced person I can say that no driver can take the chaotic city traffic conditions for long and certainly more than two years. Sooner or later they would realise that driving from Kanyakumari to Kashmir could be easier and less strenuous.
This could create a dearth for experienced and city knowing drivers. As it is, many of the drivers in this business are migrating from the neighbouring districts and several of them know neither the city routes nor they are well-versed with the GPS maps provided by the Mobile Apps and in any case the GPS maps themselves are not updated with the latest traffic changes in the city.
Yet, I continue to like the facility and when I am in a hurry, I request a separate cab for myself but when I have time to be splurged, I go for a shared-cab all the way and try to enjoy the trip thoroughly. It works out cheaper, provides entertainment, gives me an opportunity to network and establish new profitable relations and most importantly affords me a view of Chennai that I have not or could not see so far. I am also sure that for writers such trips down the city roads would provide immense story ideas.
But most importantly, when more and more people start sharing the cabs and do not take their own vehicles they are helping the city de-choke, give out more parking space, reduce carbon emissions, save the environment, save personal stress and save money too.
So, if you are at the disposal of the time, request your own cab! But if time is at your disposal, Share a cab, Share experiences and Save the environment. It will be quite interesting. Trust me, I can swear by it. All you would need is positive inclination!
Well, folks, what do you think? Do let me know, please!
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Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy