Ahsan and Imran H. Khan
PHOTO: Zahedul I Khan
memory of her ordeal is still fresh in her mind and every
time she gets in a car she is seized by panic. Ayesha Karim,
who works in a private firm, was going home in a black cab.
It was afternoon and the VIP road from Farmgate onwards was
not very busy. The driver suddenly pressed on the accelerator,
speeding away madly swerving all over the road. When it reached
near the Bijoysarani road a big Pajero jeep came in front
out of nowhere. The cab driver couldn't stop in time and rammed
into the jeep. Ayesha's head banged against the back of the
front seat and she scraped her right leg against some metal.
The windshield was completely shattered the bonnet completely
compressed and the driver was bleeding from injuries on his
head. It was a close call and Ayesha is not yet over the trauma
even though she came out of it with minor bruises. Dhaka,
a dangerous city to travel in, is hazardous if you are in
a black cab. "These drivers, many of whom are former
baby-taxi drivers, think they are still driving their three
wheelers. They know little about driving, follow no traffic
rules and don't give a damn about the safety of their passengers,"
says Ayesha. "Many times I have tried to tell the driver
to drive more slowly but either he gives a cocky response
or just pretends not to hear me," she adds.
whenever I can I try to get a yellow cab," admits Ayesha.
"Usually they are quite comfortable enough for me to
fall asleep or read a book. But getting hold of a cab that
will take you to your destination is another challenge."
list of complaints from cab-goers is long. Over the last three
or four years since taxicabs hit Dhaka's already burdened
streets, much of the enthusiasm among the commuters along
with many of the promises on the part of the cab companies
have dwindled. While the addition of taxicabs to the Dhaka
traffic has made commuting a little more comfortable and relatively
safer (in terms of not getting mugged), the overall standard
of the taxi service is still far from satisfactory.
about three or four years ago, taxicabs first started running
on the Dhaka streets, many city dwellers were relieved. Finally
their commuting troubles would be over; or so they thought.
The spacious, shining air-conditioned yellow cabs were a refreshing
sight for Dhaka's commuters for whom the best option until
then was the noisy, bone-shaking baby-taxis, which with their
ear-deafening roars and dense plume of smoke made going anywhere
in Dhaka a nightmare.
in Dhaka, means inhaling thickly polluted air and getting
bathed by frequent dust storms. With the arrival of the air-conditioned
taxicab (the yellow ones that is) people now have an opportunity
to dodge both the polluted air and thick dust of Dhaka. Such
comfort comes at a high price though. But even then many are
prepared to part with a substantial amount of money for a
tolerable journey. "I don't mind spending Tk 125 on a
taxicab to go to my workplace. At least I don't have to enter
my office exhausted, sweaty and dishevelled," says Saidul
Islam, a mechanical engineer, who lives in Gopibagh and has
to come all the way to Banani to get to his office.
even if you can afford a cab you don't necessarily get one,
even if it's right in front of you. Ask any taxicab passenger,
regular or occasional, everyone would say how uncertain catching
a taxi becomes. "If you want to get on a bus you can
go to the nearest bus stop, but there is no taxicab stand
where you can go and get a taxi. One has to just depend on
luck and keep waiting. On a bad day one might have to wait
for as long as half an hour," points out Anwar Hossain,
a thirty plus teacher at a private university. The phone numbers
written on the chasis of the taxicabs hardly help. "Sometimes
I call five companies one after another but meet with same
negative answer," he adds.
Tahmina, who teaches English at Independent University, has
a solution for this. She has made permanent arrangement with
a taxicab driver who takes her to her university in Banani
and her 8-year-old son to his school in Uttara and brings
them back home. " I have to pay Tk 7,000 a month, but
at least I don't have to wait indefinitely in the street and
get to office late. I also don't have to worry about who will
take my son to school and pick him up after school,"
one of the most common grievances against taxicabs is that
the drivers are often reluctant to go to some particular places.
Most drivers don't want to go to Old Dhaka or Motijheel for
example, because of traffic congestion, while some drivers
won't go to places like Cantonment area because, as they put
it, they will have to return empty. Manan Morshed, an artist
who works as an illustrator for a national daily, doesn't
see any logic in this excuse: "The yellow cab charges
Tk 8 for one kilometre and since one has to pay Tk 20 for
the first two kilometres the passenger is already paying an
extra 4 takas. The extra amount should compensate in case
the taxi is to travel some distance without a passenger".
Cab drivers often refuse a journey outright if the distance
is short. "It's very frustrating. You are in a great
hurry, you have even got hold of an empty taxi, but it won't
go because you are not going far enough," says Ferdous
Alamgir, who owns a house in Mirpur.
allegation against the drivers is that they keep the cab dirty
and don't behave well with the passengers. "Sometimes
they stare at you through the rear view mirror to see what
you are doing particularly if the passenger is a woman,"
says Fahmida Khan. And if there is a couple, their curiosity
crosses all boundaries. Some of them just switch on the cassette
players without bothering to ask if the passenger is in a
mood to listen to music. "Clearly they are not given
any training about how they should behave with the passengers,"
Ayesha points out.
Iqbal, a resident of Banani, feels strongly about cabs that
do not deliver the promises that they make. "I once boarded
a yellow cab and told the driver to turn on the AC as it was
a very humid day. He said his AC didn't work and I had to
sweat during the whole journey," says Iqbal. Without
any monitoring, the fitness and functionality of the cabs
are questionable, the companies and their drivers take a lot
for granted at the customer's expense. "After my journey,
I had to pay the metre price of an AC cab, though the service
was the same as a black cab's," says Iqbal.
passengers have numerous complaints about taxi services, the
cab companies aren't prepared to accept all these allegations.
Farhad Malek, Administrative Officer of Anudip, one of the
leading Yellow Cab companies in Dhaka that has a fleet of
about 400 cabs says that there is a gap between the demand
and supply. Another problem is that Dhaka is already too crowded
with all sorts of vehicles and the number is increasing every
day. Many of these new vehicles don't have a road permit.
So, for practical reasons, it is not really possible to multiply
the number of taxis, or any vehicles for that matter,"
owners also refuse to accept the allegation that the taxi
drivers do not have proper training or original licenses.
"We follow a particular procedure while recruiting drivers.
Drivers have to appear at the driving tests, which is conducted
by a panel of our own examiners. We also verify all the documents,
especially the license before we appoint someone as a driver,"
says Md. Emdadul Haq, Deputy Manager of Administration of
Salida, a well-established cab service. Haq also claims that
Salida is careful about the maintenance of their cabs: "
The cars go through maintenance checks as soon as problems
appear." This is hardly the case with black cabs, which
become dilapidated and battered within months of running on
the roads due to ill maintenance and reckless driving.
some of the bigger and more reputed companies may truly follow
some regulations, many of the smaller companies don't bother
to verify whether or not the driver they have appointed possesses
a valid license. "It requires Tk 5,000, not to mention
the great hassle, to acquire an original license, whereas
one can purchase a fake one for Tk 300 only. The only problem
a fake license holder faces is he has to pay Tk 50 to Tk 200
every time he is caught by the sergants," reveals Ismail
Hossain, who drives a black cab, called Cab Promise, which
is owned by an individual. Though Hossain knows the 'easy
way out' about getting fake licenses, he claims to have an
original one himself.
have their own tales of woe. Usually a cab driver has to deposit
a large amount of cash, sometimes as much as 1000 taka a day,
as security money. Whatever they earn on top of that they
can keep. But if business is slow, then drivers find it hard
to pay the deposit let alone make extra cash.
a black cab service, takes a security deposit of Tk 3000 from
the drivers and then allow them to take out their cabs for
Tk 700 a day. Cabline, along with its mother company, Cab
Express Bangladesh, boasts a fleet of about 500 cabs, according
to SM Rofiqul Islam, Manager of Accounts and Finance at Cabline.
Motaleb (not his real name) has been driving Black Cabs for
more than a year. His cab is owned by Star Gate. "Star
Gate, Cab Bangla and Cab One are all under the same owner,
but he has some partners I think, I'm not too sure,"
he says. Consisting of a fleet of about 200 cars, many of
the local cab companies go into joint ventures, taking different
routes of the country. Even though some drivers are always
agreeable, most of them refuse to take certain customers or
go to some locations. "Certain places are totally jam
packed and we don't want to go there. Sometimes, the customers
get out of the cars in the jam and pay us off. After that,
we are simply stuck in the jam for hours," says Motaleb.
the drivers go to cab companies to hire cabs, the first thing
that they need to submit is a certificate issued by the chairman
of the Union Parishad. This document verifies the fact that
the person is a member of a certain voting area. Other documents
that are vital are the driver's licence and photo of the driver.
The drivers have to pay a fee for hiring the cabs. For the
Black Cabs that run on gas, the fee is Tk 700 per day, and
for the cabs that run on petrol it is Tk 400 per day. A day
usually starts at 7a.m. and lasts until 12 in the morning.
while on the road is also a problem that the cab drivers constantly
face. Enayet Mia has been driving for more than two years.
"I was nearly robbed once," says Mia, a yellow cab
driver, curiously looking at the rear-view mirror. "I
think there were three of them. One was on my right, one was
in front of my cab and the third almost got a foot into the
passenger's seat beside me," he goes on. Luckily, he
had the engine still running and put down all his weight on
the accelerator. The guy never managed to get in and was hurled
out. Enayet also ran over the foot of another robber. "After
the incident, I never looked back because I knew that if they
caught me, they would surely kill me," he nervously says.
The memories of that dreadful day still haunting him.
had worked for a certain Yellow Cab company for quite some
time now. He had to deposit a certain amount as a security.
Once a private car had hit him from the back and had bent
his bumper. After he had returned the car and told his owners
about the incident, they wouldn't hear his side of the story.
What ever he said, he was at fault. Finally, they cut a large
portion of money from the security deposit he had previously
paid. "If I had hit the private car, then not only would
I have had to pay my owners, I would also have to pay some
compensation to the other car owner," says Illias,. "There
is no gaining in our business."
commuter's point of view going in a black cab is not much
better than going in a CNG run three-wheeler. Cars used by
black cab services are very lightweight and get easily crushed
in even low impact collisions. These vehicles do not adhere
to even basic passenger safety laws; instead of the bonnet
and engine taking the impact the force falls on the people
inside as it is the main chasis of the car that gets crunched.
though these Indian models are not too reliable and don't
last long, the government still tells us to get these cabs",
says the manager of a cab company requesting anonymity. "There
are other cars that cost about the same but are much better,
yet we are not allowed to import them."
is little incentive, therefore, to improve the taxi cab service.
The number of yellow cabs, which is the more acceptable option
for cab goers, have not expanded with the rise in demand.
But the cabs that are in the roads are not considered enough
or a reliable mode of transportation as their availability
often depends on the whims of the cab drivers. Unless the
cab companies get their act together and provide the service
they had initially promised, there is little hope for this
business to survive. For the commuters who are becoming increasingly
disillusioned by the quality of service from the cab companies,
switching to CNG three-wheelers and public buses are the only
(R) thedailystar.net 2004