Every time Geeta Manchanda’s daughter takes a radio cab, she is expected to follow a procedure: a photo of the car along with the driver’s details have to be WhatsApped to the mother, and at least three calls in a span of 45 minutes are to be made to each other. But, Manchanda’s panicky demeanour changes to a carefree one if it’s the local taxi stand’s Sardarji behind the wheel.
The alleged rape of a 27-year-old by a cabbie with Uber has hardened her faith in the neighbourhood man. “We recognise most of these taxi stand drivers, know their habits and quirks. Young people think these radio cabs are fashionable but they are not safe,” the 56-year-old says.
It’s this bond of trust that has kept these taxi stands afloat even after various radio cab services swamped the streets years ago. There are no no special easy-to-remember phone numbers and sometimes not even a basic banner outside the stands. This is the case with Longowal Taxi Service at Mayur Vihar Phase-I, owned by Jaspal Singh and Gurwinder Singh. They have 16 cars and do business purely by word-of-mouth. “It’s all about trust. We have customers in Noida, Preet Vihar and Laxmi Nagar who will rather pay more and book us than get a radio cab. Even at 1 am, we ferry women. And not a single complaint has come forward in the past two decades,” Gurwinder says.
The local taxis charge a fixed amount based on duration and distance, instead of going by the kilometre-fare method implied by radio cabs.
Huddled together on a bed at the taxi stand, the drivers, while disturbed by the alleged rape case, are proud of their clean record. “We have had years of relations with our customers. Some even drop by to have tea with Sardarji,” says Gurnaib Singh, a driver with Longowal for 15 years.
While at Sahi Taxi Service in Jungpura, the atmosphere is grim. The drivers fear that the alleged rape incident will affect business. “Business was affected when these radio cabs started. It will be affected again because of this incident,” says owner Pradeep Singh.
As a freelance photographer, Aditi Tailang has shots all over the city at odd hours. Be it 1 pm or 1 am, the 27-year-old resident of Mayur Vihar Phase-II swears by Harbans Taxi Service in Lajpat Nagar. “I know that he’s personally concerned about my safety,” says Tailang.
Faridabad-based Kapir Uppal, co-founder of FitNut.in, shares an even better relationship with Mamchand, owner of a taxi service near his estate. “He collects payments from clients on our behalf, delivers Diwali gifts for us, and every time a first-timer comes to Delhi, he takes care of them,” says the 25-year-old.