I recently had the pleasure of travelling in a ‘Sarathi’ taxi which offers ride booking services and, I must say, it was a great experience. The urge to write about it, at the cost of sounding like a paid promoter, is borne simply out of sheer overwhelming gratitude. Those of us who have had nightmarish experiences with taxi drivers – and I suspect it is a good proportion of the valley’s population – will know exactly what I’m talking about. It wasn’t like the ‘Sarathi’ driver complimented me on my new haircut, offered me a bottle of beer or gave me a back massage after the trip. He simply did his job, which is more than what can be said about the valley’s drivers.
If there is one particular demographic that people in Nepal loathe the most, it has to be taxi drivers. Actually, that might be our politicians but I’m willing to bet that taxi drivers occupy a pretty big slice of that pie chart too. Yes, it is a sweeping generalization but cabbies themselves will be the first to admit that most of their lot are usually up to no good. Not when you take out rallies demanding to be given permission to charge customers as you like – in short, a license to cheat. It’s not as if most of them run on government set meter fares anyway.
On the rare occasions that I have encountered honest taxi drivers, I have felt so indebted to them for a trouble-free cab ride that I invariably end up tipping them – often quite generously. On occasions, I have even resorted to taking down their numbers in order to be able to contact them again. Such is the paucity of drivers willing to earn an honest day’s income. This is as much a commentary on our low service standards as it is a chronicle of my exasperation to find honest taxi drivers. Even though the police do their best to help, they simply can’t be present everywhere.
In Nepal, when you approach a taxi, the driver is mentally opening his cash register - ‘Ka-Ching!’ It really is a game of luck. If you hail an honest cabbie then you are on your way but if not, then the entire ordeal usually involves the following three steps:
Step one – Start by asking them if they would please do you the favour of taking you to a particular place. You don’t just hop in and be on your way. Your driver has to be willing to go to your destination because it might not be on his route! You want to remind them that they are taxis not buses but then again they already know that.
Step two – Once step one is sorted, you quickly realize that the fare meter on the front doesn’t serve any real purpose – it is only for show. So, there is a good chance you will have to bargain. In fact, I have probably bargained less at the vegetable markets but if you are going for it, there are some ground rules to know. Firstly, your fare or the bargaining price will usually start at Rs 500. Secondly, any piece of luggage means extra money. And thirdly, they will want to know where exactly it is that you want to go. For instance, how far from the ring road is it? Be scientifically precise, preferably with coordinates because any extra turn of the wheel means additional money added to the fare. And if they feel like they have to return empty from your destination – Ka-ching ching!
Step three – If you are travelling on the meter, be aware of their little tricks and stunts like making meters jump by fiddling with their stereos or horns. If you are not travelling by meter, you need not worry because you have already been ripped off.
Our cabbies have their justification for this behaviour though and theirs is the age-old refrain – ‘Everything here is expensive’. I’m sorry but all of us were busy trying not to drown in pools of our own money to notice that life in Kathmandu is indeed expensive.
Anyway, sarcasm aside, what really annoys everyone is the whole act of overpaying and then being expected to be grateful for the privilege. What is supposed to be a mundane task, getting from point A to point B becomes exhausting with all these refusals, brokering, and negotiating. It is the respite from this stress and the entitled mentality that makes the ‘Sarathi’ experience feel so liberating. The only drawback is the limited number of cabs meaning longer waiting times but I expect that will be sorted out in the near future.
More power to them! I hope that this initiative compels our loutish drivers to follow suit in terms of fairness and service towards the customer. I look forward to the day when ordering a ride becomes easy and all this cab hailing misery is a thing of the past. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org