With the yellow metered taxis joining the protest against alleged police excesses on the second day of the strike called by app-based cabs, the commuters at Howrah station faced immense difficulties in reaching their destinations. Most of the passengers had to stand in the queue for hours to get a taxi to reach their destinations as a large number of taxis were nowhere to be seen and the few that were plying demanded exorbitant fares from passengers.
Passengers coming to the city by train had a harrowing time to get taxis from the pre-paid taxi counter. Long queues were seen before the pre-paid kiosk while the online pre-prepaid kiosks wore a deserted look and app cabs were hard to spot.
“The situation is worse today compared to yesterday as most of the yellow and no-refusal taxis are staying off the roads. We are having a difficult time since morning due to huge shortage of taxis. More than half the taxis are off the roads and the passengers have no alternative but to wait in long queues,” said an operator at the pre-paid taxi booth run by Progressive Taxi Men’s Union. The online prepaid taxis are, however, operating albeit they are fewer in numbers, he added.
Soumya Banerjee from Birbhum’s Sainthia had come with his sister and her husband. He had been waiting in the line for more than one and a half hour, but was still uncertain how he would be able to reach his destination. “My sister has her job counselling at Swastha Bhavan in Salt Lake and we have to reach the place within time. I have been standing in the queue for over one and a half hours. If I do not get ticket within next 15 to 20 minutes, I will get a taxi from outside and shell out 1000 rupees. We cannot afford to lose this opportunity for my sister,” said an irritated Banerjee.
“We had no information regarding the strike. When I tried to book an Ola, it did not accept the ride. The taxis outside are also charging inconceivably higher amount for a ride to Sealdah. So we have no option but to catch a taxi from here because the fares are normal,” said Sushmita Mishra, who had got down from a train after a long journey from Barakar. Her father had already been waiting for nearly an hour to get a taxi.
The situation was the same for 60-year-old Ranita Agarwal who had come from Delhi. While her son stood in the evergrowing queue for nearly fifty minutes to get the ticket for a cab to Golf Green, she had a trying time waiting with kneejoint pain. “I cannot wait anymore as my knees are aching. I do not know when our taxi will arrive,” she said. However, her ordeal finally ended when the cab arrived.
Taxi driver Ramesh Singh reflected on the dreadful situation that the passengers were facing. “Most of the taxis are not plying. Even I was fearful initially when I took out my car in the morning as I heard that some men were attacking the taxis that were plying,” he said. He also said that fares are unusually higher today at the airport and Sealdah railway station.
“We are charging about Rs 2,000 from Howrah to airport today and Rs 500 to Sealdah,” said a taxi driver who was waiting outside the station.
Another driver on condition of anonymity alleged that the taxi drivers have to pay bribes regularly to the police and the civic volunteers. “Police officers, especially the civic volunteers regularly extort money from us. If we fail to yield to their demands, they unnecessarily harass us by making us pay hefty amounts as fine. Despite repeated appeals made by the taxi unions to Howrah City Police officers, nothing has been done so far to put an end to this malpractice,” complained the driver.
Earlier in the day, Golabari Traffic Guard sources informed that no untoward incident had taken place around the station complex and extra buses were being run by the state transport department to ease the problems of the passengers.