KOCHI: The two previous attempts to develop an app-based taxi online service to take on the might of global taxi aggregators such as Uber and Ola in Kochi failing to make much headway is keeping people wary about announcement by Cooperation Minister Kadakampally Surendran that the state cooperative department plans to launch an online taxi services on an experimental basis in Kochi.
The Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) is yet to offer the services despite making an announcement more than a year ago, the second experiment got on to the ground but died an early death. Kerala Taxi, the app-based online taxi services promoted by the Vytilla Taxi Drivers Welfare Society and backed by CPM Ernakulam district committee, was launched in March 2016 with 100 drivers and a plan to raise the number to 3000 in Ernakulam.
However, it folded up soon as it failed to offer competitive pricing to the customers.
It tried its best to survive: it slashed the rates from the government-fixed Rs 10 per km to match the ones offered by Uber and Ola. (Uber charged Rs 7 per km Ola's fare was Rs 49 per 6 km). The fleet had strengthened with up to 300 taxis . But the venture slowly petered out.
CPM state secretariat member P. Rajeev who initiated the project as CPM district secretary, said Kerala Taxi was unable to fight the global majors backed by big capital. "Uber and Ola have access to global capital markets; Kerala Taxi was not in a position to get such support. They can afford to run losses in in the initial stages and make good for them later; we don't have that option. Such an experimentr can succeed only with government support," Mr Rajeev said and welcomed the announcement by Mr Surendran.
Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) had announced devising a mobile app to rival Uber and Ola a year ago and is still working on it. The company is not able to advance it because it is not able to devise competitive rates rivaling Uber and Ola while it has a limited fleet of 562 taxis under the CIAL Taxi Service Society. "The other online aggregators have thousands of cars attached to them and it is difficult to rival them with competitive rates and availability," CIAL sources said. "Currently CIAL Society taxis charge two-way fare while online app-based ones take only one side fare. However, CIAL taxis are charging only reasonable fares. We find it difficult to rope in taxis from outside to operate an online taxi mechanism since several issues are involved in it." CIAL will join the initiative if the government comes out with a mechanism to roll out an online taxi service, the sources said.
She Taxi Service, another venture started with much fanfare during the time of the previous UDF government, also did not survive for long.
To be or to be: that's the question
D Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), a public policy think-tank, said the very idea of government investing in online taxi service is wrong. "No government can make it viable nor have they the expertise to make it viable," he told DC. "The Kerala government which is struggling to stay KSRTC afloat cannot and should foray into such areas. Public money should not be invested in it which is sure to fail. Even Uber and Ola are not able to make it profitable despite making billions of dollars in investment. They are afloat because still people are investing in it trusting the model. We have to note that no new firm is making foray into the field also."
He said that cumbersome procedures for booking also contributed to the failure of She Taxi. "We don't have time to upload ID proof as demanded by She Taxi admin and other similar procedures and simplifying things is what is needed," Dr Dhanuraj said. "The government instead of investing in an online taxi should take steps to co-ordinate between various methods of transport so that everything should become viable. The private bus operators as well as the Kochi Metro say they make losses. The government must ensure co-ordination between them to make them all viable."
However, Auto-Taxi Light Motor Workers Federation state treasurer M.B. Syamanthabhandran who was part of the Kerala Taxi initiative backs the government move. "Kerala Taxi failed because we could not offer enough vehicles and competitive fares," he said
"Kerala government should act as an aggregator, like Ola and Uber do. Moreover the situation has changed. A lot of taxi operators aligned with them are disgruntled now as do not get a decent income, which was not the case in 2016. So there is a lot of scope for a venture by Kerala Government, attracting the same taxi operators," said Mr Syamanthabadran.