The Shetaxi service has evoked enthusiastic response from the public, surpassing even the expectations of the organisers.

As with any ambitious government scheme, this one too was greeted by cautious optimism at best. But when the ‘Shetaxi’ initiative was launched, with ‘Dial 859-00-00-543 for a safer journey’ as its catchline, not even the organisers, equipped with all their market analysis, anticipated the kind of overwhelming response they received.

Almost 2,500 calls were recorded at the call centre in the course of a month. While some called for curiosity’s sake, the rest of the calls translated into a total of 300 trips, 900 passengers and a total distance of over 20,000 km of journey. All these milestones were reached with a limited fleet of five cars and five women drivers.

The Shetaxi service and the technology-oriented systems it employs seem to put it light-years ahead in terms of speed and efficiency. But most importantly, it has become a regular fixture in the speed-dial list of the phones of many women as it guarantees a measure of safety with enterprising women at the wheel.

Anytime service

These five women have driven far beyond the limits of the capital district, with trips to Kochi, Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli, and Alappuzha requested by their clients. They have made over a 100 night journeys (between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.). The state-of-the-art safety equipment and constant monitoring have allayed any apprehension of working after nightfall. “There is no reason to be worried,” says the senior-most of the group, Annie Surendran.

The world is not kind to woman drivers and Annie can vouch for that being a driving school instructor in the capital for 35 years. But the Shetaxi cars with their conspicuous logo and colour scheme emblazoned all over the Maruti Dzire sedans have turned the brand into a familiar symbol on the road. “It is so strange to find vehicles more disciplined towards me now. Earlier, there was no question of being granted space even if it was my right of way. Now, other cars move aside,” says Annie, still unused to the civil treatment that Shetaxi cars apparently evoke.

To other cities

Seven more cars are being prepared for launch this month and the officials of the Gender Park under the Social Welfare Department are keen on branching off to Kochi and Kozhikode cities shortly. They are still evaluating applications from women drivers, according to project officer K.R. Ijas Khan.

The scheme is also being supported by the Kerala State Women Development Corporation and fleet management and technology solutions are offered by Rain Concert Technologies at Technopark. Maruti Suzuki is the vehicle provider.

Rain Concert Technologies chief executive officer Abhilash R. Pillai says the system is being constantly fine-tuned, and within another six months, the ultimate model, in terms of safety and revenue generation, can be achieved. Unconventional advertising models are being sought.

Complaints that the service is expensive have arisen, but Mr. Abhilash believes that a larger fleet will help reduce the rates. He also shares a few general trends they have observed — of pregnant women making use of the service to go to work or hospital visits and mothers using it for dropping or picking up their children early in the morning for tuitions.

The need for different kinds of cars has been raised as smaller journeys do not require boot space. Taxi pooling and mapping ‘business clusters’ or crowded spots are on the anvil. For instance, a vehicle lying idle near the airport can be sent to Shangumugham beach where visibility is high and advertisers can thus be lured.