The peela (yellow) ambassador taxis that are considered one of the prime identities of Kolkata, are having tough times and if the trend persists, the City of Joy could lose one of its favourite faces before the world.
Even a decade ago, the queue to grab a permit for running the ambassador taxi in Kolkata was long. The permits were bought like hot cakes as soon as the notifications were issued by the transport authorities. Taxi business was once such a popular one that there have been several instances of people quitting their regular jobs to own a taxi or even a fleet of the yellow assets.
The situation is no more the same today. According to a report published in Bengali daily Anandabazaar Patrika, the transport office had issued a notification in 2014 seeking deployment a fleet of 5,000 taxis on the roads but half of the forms for the permits have yet not been claimed even after three years. Even, less people are willing to scrap their old vehicles and replace them with newer ones.
Why is there this dip in the enthusiasm in running the age-old yellow ambassador taxis?
The arrival of the better service providers like Ola and Uber
The changing nature of the transportation economy is the prime reason. The advent of popular cab service-providers like Ola and Uber have put the traditional taxis under challenge. Even though procuring the luxury taxi permits for running Ola and Uber cabs is expensive than the traditional taxis but yet the new services are eclipsing the old ones. A prime reason for that is the easier availability of the Ola and Uber taxis. They arrive at the doorsteps on one call, a facility the traditional taxis lack. And there are no cases of refusal in case of Ola and Uber, something the lazy operators of the old taxis are finding as a threat to their survival.
Shortage of drivers who are finding Ola and Uber jobs more lucrative
Another reason for the dip in the business of running the older taxis is the shortage of drivers, the report quoted Bimal Guha, the president of Bengal Taxi Association, as saying. The reason is the better financial incentives for driving the Ola and Uber cabs.
Gradual disappearance of Ambassadors
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The gradual disappearance of the Ambassador has also hit the trade. Yellow taxis of Kolkata are synonymous with Ambassador cars but with the car getting defunct now, many potential taxi business operators have lost interest. They are not willing to run other models as taxis. The reason is partially the Ambassador's reputation as a hardy vehicle to meet the rigorous schedule of a taxi, the relatively low maintenace expenditure and also the age-old obsession with the vehicle itself. The common Bengali mind is yet to overcome the nostalgia of the Ambassador when it comes to travelling.
The taxi operators in cities like Mumbai and Delhi are still trying to be in the race with the Olas and Ubers and have started apps to make their services equally appealing for the modern-day customers. Are Kolkata's taxi operators giving it up too early? There are reports of agitation against what is being termed an "unequal competition", but will that of any help in a world where adaptation is the key.