For Perumal D, life has revolved around cars for three decades. The 52-year-old driver from Jagathy in Thiruvananthapuram is the breadwinner for his family of four.
This Wednesday, he had reason to hope for better earning prospects thanks to a ‘new savari (ride)’ in his driving career’, as Kerala launched one of the first taxi aggregator services in line in India owned by a state government.
Dubbed Kerala Savari, the Uber-like app promises passenger safety and reasonable compensation for car and taxi drivers. To begin with, around 541 vehicles – 321 auto rickshaws and 228 cars – are part of the company.
“This is a new start for us in terms of getting fair compensation. I also drove cars for Uber and Ola. But the government has set a service charge of only 8%, which is attractive for a driver and will make the fares accessible for a consumer as well,” Perumal added.
The government said on Wednesday its service tax offer was low compared to the 20-30% charged by other online taxis. Perumal added that all workers received proper training on technology and service aspects before launching the application on Wednesday.
The company is run by the Motor Workers Welfare Board of the state labor department, while the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) in Palakkad takes care of the technological aspects. “We are getting great responses from passengers from day one. The state government is targeting the economic uplift of hundreds of thousands of people involved in this workflow, providing them with better wages than in the existing online services,” said Sajeev Kumar V of the Kerala Motor Transport Workers’ Welfare Fund Board, which is in charge of the initiative in Thiruvananthapuram.
The first phase of the project is implemented in the city of Thiruvananthapuram. Kumar added that services will soon be extended to Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Kollam, Kannur and Thrissur.
“It seems like a relief for traditional workers as well as those working under corporate taxi aggregators. The results will be visible in the next two months and we are with the government,” said Shaji Thampanoor, Chairman of Kerala Taxi Drivers Organization (KTDO). However, he added, taxis serving train stations, airports and bus stops have “bought seniority” from unions and other local actors to run on these stops. “For them it will be a huge loss as people will prefer Kerala Savari app which seems to be cheaper at this stage.”
According to KTDO, there are places where taxi drivers will have to pay even Rs 5 lakh-10 lakh to get a ride slot.
The government had opted for police verification of drivers before integrating them into the bosom of Kerala Savari. “We will have to wait and see, but happy to be part of the adventure. We can give an opinion (on the service) after a few weeks,” said Rafi, another driver from Thiruvananthapuram.
Although Goa introduced its own app-based taxi aggregator, Goa Miles, in 2018, it ran into trouble after facing protests from private taxi players and consumer complaints over taxi drivers refusing to pay. take last minute rides and cancellations.
Consumers can download the Savari mobile app from the Google Play Store, which drivers say may be fully functional soon. Additionally, there will be a 24-hour call center under the Motor Workers Welfare Board, which will attend to users and drivers. The government has also decided to install GPS on vehicles at subsidized rates, which will be implemented gradually. For passenger safety, panic buttons are available on the app itself. The button allows passengers direct access to the police control room, fire department and motor vehicle department.
“We will evaluate the project after a week. This gives new hope for the taxi segment,” Kumar added.