Is the death of the Mumbai taxi nigh?

As we start heading into the next decade, one thing that is slowly receding from our lives is the black-n-yellow Mumbai taxi. Iconic, stylish and distinguished once upon a time, the kaali-peeli has lost its charm.

Ubers, Olas and what not have improved the ride-hailing services so much, that the old taxis struggle to find space on the roads today. Passengers are more likely to sit in a cab that tells them the fare upfront rather than sit in traffic and keep the meter running. This is a trend not only affecting Mumbai but the entire world. The story of city taxis and how they are seeing slow death is not new to New York, London, Tokyo or any major city in the world.

But is the death of the kaali-peeli taxis imminent?

I don’t think so.

A brief history

Across the world, government authorized taxis, Kaali-peelis in Mumbai, the Yellow Taxi in New York, etc. were all standardized to avoid fraud. All the taxis were painted in standard colours, and drivers had to wear uniforms indicating they are trusted by the government.

The government also gave out only a limited number of permits to control the supply of taxis.

These specifics were needed in the last century- when riders had no way to identify who was good and who was bad. All these measures of standardization were to ensure the safety of riders.

The world has changed

In today’s world, however, the situation is very different. Our phones can ensure our safety. Life is much easier now.  

You don’t need a driver to wear a uniform. The driver ratings on your phone are enough for verification. You don’t need to wait in the crowd and search for a kaali-peeli. Your phone does the work for you while you sit at home. Your phone does the searching and matching. As a result, the time delay is almost zero.

The black-n-yellow cabs need to go through a massive change. Though these cabs are now slowly adapting to the ridesharing culture spearheaded by Ola and Uber, there is a long way to go.

Trams in Mumbai went extinct because they couldn’t adapt to the changing times. In recent times, BEST buses have started to lose their importance because of auto-rickshaws and shared cabs.

For any product or service to stay relevant, it needs to provide value. Cabs need to serve people. If they keep rejecting rides, why would people bother using them? Drivers need to understand this and start adapting themselves.

While researching this topic, I came across apps like Aamchi Drive, which are a welcome step.

To stay relevant, black and yellow cabs need to adapt to these changes. Drivers shouldn’t resist Olas and Ubers, but welcome them. Technology is not their enemy, but an ally that can help them do their jobs much better.

Some of the benefits of technology include getting matched to a passenger faster, getting paid on time and the flexibility of working whenever they want. Drivers need to embrace these benefits, rather than resist them.

Conclusion

Let’s hope that the tradition of a kaali-peeli stays relevant. Cabs shouldn’t just be props in movies and books, but be a mode of transportation first and foremost.

Cabs will not die if they adapt to the changing commuters.


The Advisory Board

My second book, The Advisory Board, is a tribute to taxi drivers. Inspired by my personal conversations with taxi drivers, I explain how they can be some of the best advisors in the world.

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