Once used to cycle-rickshaws and kudhirai vandis, the temple town is waking up to the comfort and convenience of call-cabs
Drive down any arterial road of Madurai and you will see a large number of Indicas and Omnis, many of them with fancy seven-digit registration numbers and having catchlines painted in bright colours on them. The big-city concept of dial-a-cab has now travelled to towns like Madurai, and the demand for call-taxis is on the upswing.
Many still remember the fleet of black and yellow Ambassadors and Premier Padminis parked in front of the railway junction and the airport. During the seventies, when life was lived at a leisurely pace and when Madurai moved on cycle-rickshaws and kudhirai vandis, cars were very much the preserve of the rich. Recalls sexagenarian Raghavan: “Cars were equated with wealth. Hiring taxis was also a hassle and people had to bargain a lot. The city was much smaller then and people walked out distances.”
But things have changed. “Taxi was not a commoner's choice earlier and many people were unaware about renting of cars,” says Baskaran, proprietor of Shanti Cabs – one of the first taxi services to come up in Madurai. “When we started 25 years ago, people were reluctant to hire and we serviced only occasional family trips.”
With a strength of 50 cars, Shanti Cabs still remains a taxi service firm and not a call-taxi agency. “Call taxis are new and different. Our clients are predominantly from the corporate sector and we service long official trips. We also provide cars for the occasional family outing for a small group of clients,” says Baskaran.
“Until a decade ago, taxi service was an unorganized sector and people had many fears and apprehensions about cabs and cabbies. At least inside the city limits, the demand was almost nil,” says Vijayakumar of Bharath Call Taxi. “We introduced the concept of call-taxis in Madurai 11 years ago. It is an organised sector. Our rates are fixed, there is no bargaining and safety is guaranteed. Now call taxi service is a big hit among the people.”
Today, the black and yellow Padminis are nowhere to be seen. Even the compact Indicas and the humble Omnis are fast losing out to the SUVs.
“The want for class and comfort has gone up. It is no more about travelling from one place to another but a wholesome experience. The condition of the car, the behaviour of the driver, comfort, safety – these are all taken into consideration,” says Vijayakumar. “These days luxury sedans like Innova and Fiesta also serve as taxis. We have over 40 cars now.” Apart from nominal rates for A/C and non-A/C cars, call-taxi companies also offer attractive packages. “Trips to tourist destinations around Madurai cost higher. We have eight-hour and nine-hour packages wherein a maximum of 200 km is allowed and for every extra kilometre and hour, we charge extra” says S.B. Kannan of Vaigai Cabs, a 10-year-old firm. “People don't prefer cars inside the town area and moreover due to narrow lanes and parking issues, only Indicas can be taken into the temple area. In Madurai, trips to the suburbs are more common, unlike in the metros where trips within the city are high” he adds.
Every package trip includes brief visits to nearby lesser-known places; and you wouldn't need a guide because the driver doubles up as one. “Since we depend more on word-of-mouth publicity, we are keen on striking a relationship with our customers. We train our drivers to behave well with clients” says Vijayakumar, “Regular feedbacks are obtained from the clients. We also give prizes to the person who books the first cab of the day.”
Call-taxi companies have a well-planned network. Once a call is received in the control room, the driver is contacted through walkie-talkie or mobile and the vehicle reaches the place within 10 minutes. The cars are strategically parked in every area in town and the nearest one is alerted. Electronic meters fitted inside the car makes things simpler for the customer.
“Pick-ups and drops from the airport and the junction increase during Diwali,” says S.B. Kannan, “We charge Rs.150-175 for a trip to the junction and Rs.300-400 for the airport. Criss-crossing the city from a place like Iyer Bunglow to airport will cost more.”
Fast Track, a Chennai-based call-taxi chain, started operations in Madurai three years ago and now has around 150 cars. “We follow car pooling. Anyone who has a car and is interested in a side income can loan us our car,” says Bala, franchisee. “They can be sure of earning at least Rs. 20,000 a month.”
Fast Track also follows modern safety methods and keeps track of cars out on a trip.
Call taxis have become another part of the ever-awake city. Anytime, anywhere, they are just a call away.
Dial a cab
Friends Track – 2667777, Surya – 9842130013, Gokulam – 4255512, Shanti Cabs – 2340065, Fast Track – 2888999, Bharath Call Taxi – 6501111, Vaigai Cabs – 6502222, Ezee Track – 9442117228, Madurai Travels – 9842174564, Sharma Cabs – 2336691, Somu Call Taxi - 9843052246