New Delhi: It seems the end of the road for the black-and-yellow taxis that have been for decades a part of the capital`s street scene.
With the Delhi government hiking the fares of such cabs and introducing cheaper and more comfortable radio taxis, a bleak future stares ahead for the few hundred of such cabs that were run mostly by hardy entrepreneurs from Punjab and Haryana.
The Delhi government has denied it will be phasing out the yellow-black cabs or auto rickshaws, but the cab drivers are not amused.
On June 22, the Delhi government said that new radio cabs will charge a competitive Rs 10 per kilometre - compared to Rs 20 by the yellow-black cabs - virtually signing their death warrant. In fact, the state government plans to get 1,000 of such radio cabs in the next three-four months.
"We have seen some good times. But the future looks extremely bleak," Rakesh Kumar, of Sangam Tourist Service in RK Puram in south Delhi, said.
For many of these owners, it was an entrepreneurial effort to start such taxi stands that dotted many residential and market areas and could be hailed with a phone call to their all-weather taxi stands.
The earlier cabs were the sturdy Ambassadors. They were gradually replaced by the more modern Maruti Omnis and Maruti 800s.
But the Ambassador has its own nostalgic value. Many loyal customers still swear by it.
"The yellow-black Ambassador reminds me of my youth. I have always been fascinated by it and the same is the case with many of my friends. Even today, I try to take one," said 62-year old Keshav Kumar Sharma.
However, Samir Singh, a young executive, said he had a terrible time once. "I was coming from the airport and took this taxi. The driver was rude and drove recklessly. We had narrow misses. I had an argument with him and I thought it was better to get off and save my life," he added.
Raman Mathur, 50, said the shift from Ambassadors came with the advent of radio cabs, which were well-maintained and the drivers polite. "It`s so easy to get cabs now. They just come to ones` doorstep. And are so comfortable," he said.
With the government planning to introduce non-AC Maruti Altos, Chevrolet Sparks and Maruti Omnis as radio taxis, the humble Ambassador cabs may vanish from the roads altogether - just like the horse-driven carriage or tongas.
"These new radio taxis are also non-AC just like ours, so what is the point of introducing them? Already the other radio cabs have taken a toll on our business; this step is just not needed," said an upset Kumar.
He said many taxi owners had to close shop overnight after flyovers came up or roads were widened and their shacks were demolished. "What can we do? Where we can go? This is our livelihood. We just looked for some place else. But now this.. It means, we are history," he said.
Kumar said he has just paid the last instalment for his new Ambassador taxi. "Now when it was time for me to earn without being bothered by instalments, this is what I get."
Rishipal Solanki of General Taxi Stand in Janakpuri has a similar tale of woes.
"I bought a new Ambassador taxi but was forced to sell it at a loss two years later because of the government`s order to switch to CNG. We have been in this business for the last 18 years. Why is it that poor people always have to suffer?," he asked.
Charanjit Singh Nijjar, owner of 50-year-old Bengal Taxi Company in Shankar Road, feels frustrated. He had to sell six diesel cars at a loss when the government made it mandatory to switch to CNG ten years back.
"We are used to these kinds of orders now. First it was the CNG, now the new radio taxi guidelines. The government is finding new ways of troubling us every few years," he said.
According to a Delhi government official, the introduction of new cabs is only to promote healthy competition in the market and denied any plan to phase out the autos and yellow-black taxis.
"We have plans to provide commuters with several options and the market will decide which cabs will remain or which will go," a senior transport official said.
He said by the year-end, around 2,000-3,000 new non-AC radio taxis would be out on Delhi roads.
Voicing the frustration and unhappiness of his lot, Nijjar says, "We will throw our taxis in the garbage bin."