Thirty minutes after S. Girish took the cab from the airport to Nungambakkam, he woke up with a start from his short nap and noticed that the vehicle was moving in a “rather slow and skewed way.” “The driver had also fallen asleep. For a moment, I didn't know whether I should sympathise with him, or shudder at the possibility of an accident,” he says.

Quite often, drivers can be seen sleeping with legs stretched inside cabs parked in lane corners with their doors flung open, in between hours of driving. Caught in a perpetual race to meet the increasing travel demands amidst tough competition, many cab drivers are losing sleep and undergoing stress.

“As a new service with just 12 drivers, we are trying hard to meet demands. Our drivers sometimes work for three nights at a stretch, but we pay them extra,” says K. Kulandaiswamy, admin-operator, Venkatanarayana Travels.

Problems arise from the rental tariffs imposed by agency owners too. “The rent is much more when you hire it for 7-8 hours, so we take the 24 and 48 hour packages,” says Jayakandhan, a cab-driver.

The advanced model of routing used by popular call taxi operators, besides online booking, travel agents and packaged tours, has hit the lesser known cab drivers, who see the holiday season as the best possible opportunity to make amends. Many travel agencies insist on cab drivers working double shifts.

“Nights are the times we can charge extra. More flights and trains arrive then. Most of us, to be prepared for a dry business at night, drive during the daytime too,” says Krishnan, a driver with Bharathi Call taxi.

Long-distance drives

“Many of us drive in the city, and offer to leave for longer distances at night to be sure we don't lose out the chance to earn. This is the only time we get to earn,” says V. Anand, a driver with Andal Taxis.

According to Joy Thomas, a driver with a popular call-taxi operator, who has invested about Rs. 8 lakh on his car and is required to pay Rs. 23,000 every month, cashing in on seasonal demand is imperative.

As a safety precaution, Transport Commissioner M. Rajaram says it is important for at least one tourist to be seated next to the driver and be vigilant about his/her driving performance, and in case of long journeys, to make sure that the driver has had proper rest.

Shortage of drivers

Shortage of good drivers and uneven travel demands are reasons, say call taxi operators. “Drivers are asked to go for the next pick-up only when they are done with the first. They can always take rest, but many drivers choose not to let go off the money,” says Pravin, an admin at Hello Taxis.

Ways to combat sleep

“Problems caused by old age, including poor eye sight and fatigue due to heat, cause stress, and sometimes I just can't help it and my eyes droop,” says J. Kannan, a cab-driver, for the last 35 years.

“I talk to the passenger if he/she is friendly, or have a smoke at regular intervals, or keep chewing mittai to ward off sleep.”

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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