Sunday, January 16, 2005

Taxi : Mumbai, Kolkatta and Cairo





When I get down to Chatrapati Shivaji terminal airport in Mumbai and pay for my pre paid taxi, I am aware what lies ahead. First, taxi driver look at my slip and seeing Bandra as a final destination gives me either a vicious or an indifferent look. His disappointment is understandable. After being in a queue for more than 24 hours and hoping to get a foreigner or at least someone who would stay in far away place like Colaba. Mumbai airport black and yellow fiat taxi is even in worst dilapidated condition that that normally runs on Mumbai roads. Car boot is never good enough to hold an airborne suitcase but driver is ingenuous to have nylon ropes to hold it. Wind shield wipers are often not working but in the event of sudden raindrops, driver is adept in navigating potholed street with one hand on steering wheel and another one mopping the windscreen with his black brown cloth.

Kolkata ambassador taxi is special in their own way. Here with driver, there is a co driver like a cleaner in trucks. Additional person is a safety device against car hijacking. In addition of being made in Kolkatta, Ambassador has extra benefit of being only four wheeler than refuse to submerge in the pouring rains of Kolkatta. When it rains , everything gets submerged. I am not too sure if Kolkatta taxis carry any meter but Mumbai does have a meter that was calibrated decades ago. They all carry tariff card that gets updated every time gas prices go upward.

Cairo taxi is similar to that of Mumbai. Fiat make is common denomination with exception of few Russian Lada. Color however is black and white. Meter does exist but never operational. Mumbai is better in that respect. Taxis are everywhere , you don’t have to worry about securing a cab. Cairo driver would spot you from anywhere and would rush to you. Even you don’t want, he would honk and get your attention.

Price negotiation is very similar to Delhi taxi. If you are foreigner, you must start your negotiation with at least half to whatever he demands. Fare does depend upon not just the distance but also on the traffic flow. Cairo traffic is notorious for traffic snarls. It would take anywhere from 10 min to one hour depending on the traffic flow. Often taxi driver would assess you on your appearance, age, sex, nationality and Arabic skills and put forth his price. Do keep plenty of 1-pound and 50-piaster notes, as driver would always ask for Bakshish. Many times, driver would agree with your price but do not be surprised if he picks up extra passengers on his way. So be prepared to share the ride.

Like in Mumbai and Kolkatta, few taxi drivers here own their own cabs, and most must pay a daily fee to the owner that is the same regardless of how good a day the driver had. One thing is common among all Mumbai, Kolkatta, and Cairo taxis. They are all like traveling in a rusting metal box. If it is a summar, its sauna. In winter, you need to test your arms to pull windowpane down. Car suspension in most of these taxis is tattered over the years. Interior of car unholstery is worn out .Cairo drivers do not have to compete with their counterparts in Mumbai and Kolkatta in battling with potholed roads. and meandering cows.

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