A common view of the Left parties in the country sees them as stuck in the mud, still pushing economic agendas of past decades, even as the country has drastically changed from those times. And so when popular taxi aggregators like Ola and Uber entered the Indian market, no one expected much more from the Left parties than organising strikes of traditional taxi unions and petitions demanding bans on these aggregators.
Which is why it comes as quite a surprise that, in Kerala, the CPI(M) have decided to take on these disruptive technology companies on their own turf.
On Thursday, Kerala taxi, an app-based online taxi service of the Ernakulam Car Drivers Welfare Society was launched by the CPI(M) Ernakulam district committee secretary P Rajeev. The latter reportedly played a key role in making the idea a reality. While the CPI(M) is not directly involved in this venture, it has played the role of a facilitator.
The app for this service is available on the Google Play Store. Thereâ€™s also a website, www.keralataxi.co, where customers can register for cab services in different categories, and a 24X7 call centre in case of problems with the app or the website.
Membership to the Welfare Society and access to the new service is available to all drivers irrespective of their trade union affiliations.
Of course, the app-based service still has a long way to go. At present it only comprises a pilot phase of 100 drivers, although there are plans to eventually scale the project up to include roughly 3,000 taxi drivers in the district.
The cabs booked through this service will also cost more than Ola and Uber taxis at the moment, as they will follow the State Government-approved rates, charging a minimum of Rs. 150 and Rs. 10 per kilometre.
As to how they plan to compete against the cheaper Ola and Uber taxis, P Rajeev says that it is a question of alerting the public to the difference between legal and illegal taxis. The taxis run by the aggregators, he says, are running without the necessary licenses. â€śThey are also running at a loss, with companies pumping in money until they have cornered the market. Then they will not be so cheap anymore. The taxi unions are propagating this information. At the same time they are also providing a responsible alternative through their own app,â€ť he said.
But are traditional taxi drivers ready for the transition to an app-based system? According to P Rajeev, already taxi drivers do not depend on customers coming to taxi stands and hiring taxis. â€śMost of the taxi drivers give out their mobile numbers and they are using the mobile to get customers already,â€ť he said, adding that the app is just trying to formalise that transition to mobile. The taxi drivers are also being given additional training to get them used to the new systems.
Will this new initiative manage to balance out the interests of taxi drivers and provide an efficient and affordable service?