The introduction of Snow Cabs taxi service has become an eyesore for conventional taxi operators in Srinagar. Started by three young Kashmiri entrepreneurs, the modern taxi service has the potential to revolutionise the travelling experience in Kashmir, SYED ASMA reports.
In a modest room situated in Tourist Reception Centre on the outskirts of Srinagar city, a young man is keenly monitoring a fleet of taxis on a large LCD screen. Across the room, a group of girls are attending phone calls from customers to confirm new bookings, offer new packages and register complaints. This modern setup is part of Snow Cabs, a radio taxi service introduced for the first time in the valley by Kehwa Express which is likely to revolutionise the travelling experience in Kashmir.
Snow Cabs is a joint project of three young men from Kashmir who have modelled it on the transport sector available in Gulf and other foreign countries. “We wanted an organized transport sector in the state which could provide easy and secure facility to locals as well as tourists,” one of the promoters says.
Snow Cabs presently has a fleet of 80 taxis which includes Tata Indigo, Tata Manza and Tata Arya. The owners say they invested Rs 13 crores in setting up the facility and are planning to increase their fleet soon. “Please do not write our names. We are not comfortable with our names appearing in newspapers. But yes, you can write about our taxis,” one of them said.
The taxis of Snow Cabs are monitored through Global Positioning System and have been fitted with an audio security system which can be used by passengers in duress, says Umer Bashir Dar, General Manager of Snow Cabs’ Technical Section. “We have spent lakhs of rupees to install the software and to train our crew to operate the system. To provide more security to our customers, we will introduce video surveillance system soon.”
While the conventional taxis in Srinagar charge heftily from customers for long distance travel, Snow Cabs offers more comfortable, modern air conditioned taxis at much lesser prices. For example, while a normal taxi operator charges around Rs 3500 for a return trip to Sonamarg, Snow Cabs offers a modern taxi for Rs 1900-2700. However, for short distance travel, the service is a costlier with charges of Rs 50 for the first kilometre and Rs 25 for each subsequent kilometre. “If we compare our rates with rest of the India, we are expensive. But if we compare our rates with the other taxis in the state, we are 40% cheaper,” the owners say.
For the people who rent taxis frequently, the introduction of Snow Cabs has come as a much-needed relief, particularly for those who avail cab facility from Srinagar airport. “The conventional taxis don’t have electronic metered bills. They charge passengers on the basis of his urgency and needs,” says Fayaz Ahmed, a private employee who frequently hires taxis for his executives and family at times. “They don’t even let the customer to look for an alternative. Seeing the extent of exploitation at this taxi stand, Snow Cabs has provided a relief, as they charge reasonable rates,” he adds.
=The introduction of Snow Cabs in Kashmir where transport sector has seen least development in the last 23 years of conflict has agitated the private taxi operators. According to the Radio Taxi Scheme 2011, the government had invited businessmen to start the radio taxi service who were in possession of five kanals of land within Srinagar Municipal Limits and Rs 2 crore cash. The taxis would have been allowed to ply within Srinagar and Jammu municipality limits. But the Snow Cabs taxis are allegedly seen all over Kashmir valley which has upset the All J&K Tourist Taxi Transports Federation (AJKTTF).
“The government initially promised us that Snow Cabs would be allowed to ply on Srinagar roads only. Now they run on long routes as well which is illegal. The government is not doing anything about it and that is why we are protesting. They are allowed to do this because they are closer to the power corridors of the state,” says Haji Abdul Rashid, AJKTTF’s President.
Although the service is still in its infancy, the Snow Cabs is seen as a threat by the owners of the existing 12,000 local taxis in Kashmir. “These cabs have snatched our major customer base from Srinagar airport and Mughal Gardens. The government wants us to suffer which is the reason why they have brought a new service in the state,” Rashid says.
“Most AJKTTF taxi drivers belong to lower middle class families. They have purchased their taxis on bank loans. They will be affected not only financially but psychologically as well. Unemployment is already taking a toll on them and now if this opportunity is also snatched from them, they will be ruined,” Rashid says.
This tussle between the owners of Snow Cabs and AJKTTF was reported in Srinagar press, providing the much-needed publicity to Snow Cabs. “We have not invested much in publicity but we have got enough of it, much more than we expected,” says one of the owners. “Since we launched the service, the newspapers are continuously writing about us; good and bad, both.”
Experts say that if the Snow Cabs sustain for a year, it can revolutionize the private transport sector in the state. “When Snow Cabs would be in competition with conventional taxis, they will surely try to offer better outdo each other. It can offer the customer a choice to avail quality, better and affordable taxis,” experts say. There is also a possibility that the taxi fares might be revised.