The story so far: Kerala has soft launched ‘Kerala Savari’, the country’s first online taxi service owned by a State government, to ensure fair and decent service to passengers along with fair remuneration to auto-taxi workers. Operated by the Motor Workers Welfare Board under the aegis of the Labour Department, the Kerala Savari ensures safe travel for the public at ‘government approved fares’ without any ‘surge pricing’. The ‘Kerala Savari’ app would be made available to the public on online platforms shortly as it is under the scrutiny of Google now.
Why has the State government decided to launch this initiative?
The alleged unfair trade practices and violation of consumer rights by private app-based cab aggregators have come as a major concern for governments. Recently, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) had issued notices to cab aggregators Ola and Uber for unfair trade practices and violation of consumer rights. Passengers often complain about the deficiency in services including charging exorbitant fares during peak hours, unprofessional behaviour from the part of drivers, lack of proper response from customer support, and undue levy of cancellation charges despite the cab driver refusing to accept the ride booked by the passenger etc.
It is against this backdrop that the Kerala government has decided to come up with an app-based platform to offer auto-taxi service for the public. As private companies are purely focusing on profit making, the government-controlled online taxi service is a service-oriented scheme — a win-win situation for both passengers and taxi-auto drivers and owners.
What are the main attractions of ‘Kerala Savari’?
Private cab aggregators used to make a killing with surge pricing during peak hours or in the event of rains. The passengers were often forced to pay through their nose during these critical times. But there will be no fluctuation in fares on Kerala Savari irrespective of day or night or rain.
When private app-based taxi companies increase the charges for services up to two to three times during emergencies, neither passengers nor workers benefit from it. But Kerala Savari only charges an 8% service charge in addition to the rate set by the government, whereas the private cab aggregators charge up to 20 to 30% service charge. The taxi owner will get the approved fare on ‘Kerala Savari,’ while cab owners working for private online companies would often get a fare which is below the government-approved rate.
Furthermore, of the 8% service charge collected from passengers, 6% will go to the technical partner, and the remaining 2% will go to the implementation of this scheme and for providing promotional incentives to passengers and drivers. The government will not be benefiting from this scheme. For instance, if the passenger travelled a distance fixed for ₹100, the total fare would be ₹108 including service charge. The car owner will get ₹100 and the remaining ₹8 would be used for running the facility and for providing promotional incentives to passengers and drivers. In the case of online private cab aggregators, the car owner used to get below the rate of ₹100 although he covered a distance fixed for the same fare band. In addition, they would charge more than 20% service charge.
What are the security-related features of ‘Kerala Savari’?
One of the major issues that arise with app-based taxi services is that of the security of passengers. Kerala Savari is claimed as a safe and reliable online service for women, children, and senior citizens. This consideration has been given importance in app designing and driver registration. A police clearance certificate is mandatory for drivers joining the scheme apart from the required proper training.
A panic button system has been introduced in the app. This button can be pressed in the event of a car accident or in cases of any other danger. One can do it completely privately. If the driver presses the panic button the passenger will not be alarmed and the same goes for when the passenger presses the panic button. When one presses the button, there is an option to select the Police, Fire Force, and Motor Vehicle Department numbers. If you are in such a dangerous situation that you cannot select any option, press the button for a few seconds and you will be directly connected to the police control room.
It has also been decided to install GPS in vehicles at a subsidised rate. This will be implemented in a phased manner. A 24-hour call centre has been prepared for this purpose. A state-of-the-art call centre is functioning at the district office of the Motor Workers Welfare Board. The call centre works in such a way that all service-related issues can be resolved immediately.
Will the new government initiative end the monopoly of private cab aggregators?
Kerala has over five lakh autorickshaws and one lakh cabs. The State government plans to bring all auto-taxi workers engaged in the sector under the new platform. Since smartphone literacy is high in Kerala, the State is hopeful of bringing them under the scheme in a short span of time. In addition, the Kerala government has also decided to provide fuel, insurance, and tyre subsidies for vehicle owners in the future and has already initiated talks with major companies in this regard. After the evaluation of the first phase of the project in Thiruvananthapuram, it will be extended to the entire State in a phased manner. Kerala Savari is expected to reach Kollam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kozhikode, and Kannur municipal limits within a month.
- Kerala has soft launched ‘Kerala Savari’, to ensure decent service to passengers along with fair remuneration to auto-taxi workers. It is operated by the Motor Workers Welfare Board under the aegis of the Labour Department
- Kerala Savari only charges an 8% service charge in addition to the rate set by the government. Of the 8% service charge, 6% will go to the technical partner, and the remaining 2% will go to the implementation of this scheme and for providing promotional incentives to passengers and drivers
- Kerala Savari is a safe and reliable online service for women, children, and senior citizens. A police clearance certificate is mandatory for drivers joining the scheme apart from the required proper training