NO WOMAN taxi driver in the city could benefit from the 200 permits that were to be issued under the phone fleet women taxi scheme announced by the state transport department in 2014. The permits were meant to launch the first government-regulated taxi fleet for women in Mumbai. In December 2014, the transport department had floated a proposal wherein 200 permits would be distributed to a company run by women entrepreneurs employing female drivers. It was initiated to ensure greater security for women passengers who travel by public transport daily. According to senior transport officials, the sole company that placed bids backed out due to disagreements with bidding costs. As no other company came forward, the permits went to none, they said.
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“Only a single company, Priyadarshini cabs, came forward and qualified in all required areas. However, they backed out in the end and thus the permits were received by none. We also did not follow up on the same,” said a senior transport official. Priyadarshini cabs refused to take the permits after demands for re-negotiating the costs. “The authorities charged us Rs 1 lakh per permit. However, after they discovered that we were the sole bidder, they wanted us to re-negotiate the price and make us pay more for it. As we disagreed to the costs being revised, we backed out of the scheme,” said Susieben Shah, owner of Priyadarshini cabs.
Priyadarshini cabs along with Viira cabs, that operate a dedicated radio cab service for women in the city, operate on tourist permits. To encourage women participation in driving public transport vehicles, the transport department had amended the Maharashtra Motor Vehicles Rules 1989, under which it launched the existing Phone-Fleet Taxi Scheme (PFTS). The old law did not have an exclusively women’s taxi service under it. “While the new permits were meant to directly benefit female drivers, we could not partake with the higher costs. Though the permits could have opened our doors into the essential zone of serving public transport to people as opposed to the business-centric tours we cater to, affording such higher permit costs never proved to be luxury for us too,” she added. At present, there are a few women-driven cabs available at the domestic terminal which face stiff opposition from Cool Cab operators.