For Perumal D, life has revolved around cars for the last three decades. The 52-year-old driver from Jagathy in Thiruvananthapuram has been the breadwinner for his family of four.
This Wednesday, he had reason to hope for better prospects of earning from a “new savari (ride)” in his driving career”, as Kerala flagged off one of India’s first online taxi aggregator services owned by a state government.
Named Kerala Savari, the Uber-like application promises passenger safety and reasonable remuneration for auto and taxi drivers. For a start, around 541 vehicles — 321 auto rickshaws and 228 cars — are part of the venture.
“This is a new beginning for us in terms of getting fair remuneration. I used to drive cars for Uber and Ola as well. But the government has set a service charge of only 8 per cent, which is attractive for a driver and will make the rates accessible for a consumer as well,” Perumal added.
The government said on Wednesday that its service tax offer is low compared to 20-30 per cent charged by other online taxis. Perumal added that all the workers were given proper training on technology and service aspects before launching the application on Wednesday.
The venture is being spearheaded by the Motor Workers Welfare Board under the state labour department, while the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) in Palakkad is handling the technological aspects. “We are getting great responses from passengers from day one itself. The state government is targeting the economic uplift of lakhs of people involved in this stream of labour, ensuring them better wages than in existing online services,” said Sajeev Kumar V from the Kerala Motor Transport Workers’ Welfare Fund Board, who is in charge of the initiative in Thiruvananthapuram.
The first phase of the project is being implemented in Thiruvananthapuram city. Kumar added that the services will be extended to Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Kollam, Kannur and Thrissur soon.
“This appears to be a relief for traditional workers as well as those working under corporate cab aggregators. The results will be visible within the next two months and we are with the government,” said Shaji Thampanoor, president of Kerala Taxi Drivers Organization (KTDO). However, he added, cabs plying routes from railway stations, airports and bus stands have “bought seniority” from unions and other local players to run on those stands. “For them, this will be a huge loss as people will prefer the Kerala Savari application, which appears to be cheaper at this point.”
According to KTDO, there are locations in which taxi drivers will have to pay even Rs 5 lakh-10 lakh for getting a running slot.
The government had opted for police verification of drivers before making them a part of the Kerala Savari fold. “We will have to wait and see, but excited to be a part of the venture. We can give an opinion (on the service) after a couple of weeks,” said Rafi, another driver from Thiruvananthapuram.
Though Goa had introduced its own app-based taxi aggregator, Goa Miles, in 2018 it ran into trouble after facing protests from private taxi players and complaints from consumers over refusal of drivers to take rides and last-minute cancellations.
Consumers can download the Savari mobile application from Google Play Store, which drivers say may be fully functional soon. In addition, there will be a 24-hour call centre under the Motor Workers Welfare Board, which will attend to users and drivers. The government has also decided to install GPS on vehicles at subsidised rates, which will be implemented in a phased manner. For the safety of passengers, panic buttons are available on the application itself. The button gives passengers access to the police control room, fire services and motor vehicle department directly.
“We will be evaluating the project after a week. This gives fresh hope for the taxi segment,” Kumar added.