Somewhere in Kolkata....

After half a century, the Ambassador’s monopoly on the metered taxi market in Kolkata has ended. You will soon see sleek Wagon-Rs and Tata Indigos in the yellow-and-blue combo. The transport department has already issued the notification for permitting 1,000 vehicles of both makes (petrol and LPG versions of Wagon-R and diesel Indigos). The move comes in the wake of a Calcutta High Court order to phase out commercial vehicles more than 15 years old. Though the March 31 scrap deadline is over and 6,300 old Amby cabs continue to ply in the city, the government order will pave the way for a modern taxi fleet. Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors have offered a subsidy of Rs 20,000 to cab owners to match the one given by Hindustan Motors (HM) for Ambys. “If the response is good, we will consider allowing more Wagon-Rs and Indigos,” a transport department official said. Till now, the department has steadfastly sheltered the antiquated Ambys and prevented competition from modern cars despite repeated pleas by carmakers. Other cities have long dumped the Amby taxis. Taxi associations, while welcoming the move, want LPG Maruti Omni and diesel Indica to be allowed as well. “Omni is spacious and much cheaper,” said Calcutta Taxi Association secretary Tarak Nath Bari. Some years ago, a couple of Omni taxis were allowed but permission was quickly withdrawn. Transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury claimed the vehicle was ‘unsafe’ but taxi associations allege there was pressure from HM. Little has changed in terms of ride comfort since Amby taxis were introduced in 1958. The fare has increased from 8 annas a kilometre to Rs 10/km. But the ride is still as bumpy.

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