Online taxi-hiring systems have revolutionised the way we travel

Roadblocks seem to have been cleared at last for online taxi services like Uber and Ola in Kozhikode

Sixty-seven rupees. That was what the ride from the hotel to the Bhubaneswar airport cost on that August morning.

Granted, the distance covered was only about five kilometres. Still, it may be difficult to imagine for most people in this part of the world that one could hire an air-conditioned cab to the airport for as little.

The fact is the online taxi-hiring system, invented by Uber and introduced in India by Ola, has revolutionised the way we travel.

Till recently though, Kozhikode could not enjoy those comfortable, affordable rides – even after the drive became smooth in cities like Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, despite the roadblocks early on.

Things, however, are changing.

Three months ago, Kerala’s third biggest city finally started using the service that caters to more than 10 crore people across the globe.

If you wonder why Uber took so long to reach Kozhikode, you would get the answer from its rival. Ola has been here since 2016. But it has been a tough battle for survival.

The taxi drivers – the traditional ones, that is – feared the online companies would impact their business and even threaten their livelihood. So, they protested.

It did not take long for the protests to turn violent. The drivers signed up with online services, like Ola and Mango, were assaulted, their cars vandalised and the employees of the companies threatened (so much so, Ola has had to close down its Kozhikode office). Not even a female driver, at the Calicut airport, was spared.

The situation was not dissimilar in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, and the drivers in other Indian cities had also tried to resist the arrival of Uber and Ola. But over a period of time, those protests died down. The resistance from drivers in Kozhikode proved much stronger. Little wonder why Uber kept its cars in the parking space for so long.

But finally, Uber is up and running in Kozhikode. So, Ola has got company. Last week, yet another online taxi company, Keracabs, was launched at Kozhikode. It is an initiative of drivers and taxi-car owners. If you cannot beat them, join them.

The arrival of Keracabs, which was first launched in Kannur and is soon expected to be introduced to the other cities, proves that you cannot stop change, you can only prolong it.

Remember how Kerala reacted to computers back in the 1980s? There were protests, out of fears that computers would take away the jobs from humans. Now, Kerala is the most computer-literate State in the country.

Online taxi-hiring systems have revolutionised the way we travel

Successful experiments

Kerala may not be among the States that ferry the highest number of passengers through online taxi, but Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram have raised the hopes of Uber and Ola. There is no reason why this mode of transport will not succeed in Kozhikode, too.

It is true that the city does not have enough online taxi cars at the moment. There are only around 200, while that number is 5,000 in Kochi and 1,500 in Thiruvananthapuram.

The online taxi companies estimate Kozhikode would need something like 500; they are hopeful of reaching that number as more drivers are attaching their cars to the service. But even now you would not find it too difficult to book your ride on Uber or Ola. Since there are not that many cars across the city, you may have to wait for some time on occasions.

Since the companies do not seem to be keen to invest on marketing, few residents are aware that the online taxi has arrived in their city.

But those who visit Kozhikode from other parts of India use it extensively, so do frequent travellers of the city.

It should only be a matter of time before Kozhikode also begins to make full use of a service that has made life on the move a lot easier.

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 12:11:37 PM |

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