Mumbai Taxis

I am in India on a 2 week trip.

On the ride from the airport to Malad, I get to understand why the Mumbai taxis are the way they are, from my driver. For those of us who have had their bones rattled in a Mumbai taxi, this will tell you why. It won’t hurt less when your head bangs into the roof of the cab, but at least you can nod wisely because you know who to blame.

In Mumbai there are three kinds of taxis (not counting the autos).

“Kali Peeli” – the black and yellow, non air-conditioned Fiat rust buckets
Cool Cabs – blue, air-conditioned taxis. Small and smelly
Tourist Cars – White with a “T” branded on its rear. The preferred ride of business types.

The first two are metered, the Tourist Cars are generally for a fixed amount for under 8 hours and 80 km. It seems like there are some other flavours, but I haven’t seen them yet.

While the Cool Cabs are a recent introduction, the Kali Peeli cabs (KP) have been around since the beginning of time. The KP is supposed to have a working life of 10 years. The RTO renews registration for the cabs every year. The key question that is supposed to be asked by the RTO official handing out the registrations is – Is this car worthy of carrying a Mumbaikar? Road worthiness is of course in the eye of the beholder and I assume that no KP ever gets a thumbs-down as long as some “chai pani ke liye” changes hands. Knowing this, the administration has, very wisely, put an age limit on KPs.

However, as your keen observation powers may have told you already, many if not a majority of KPs are older than 10 years. How is that possible, you ask? Simple. The cabbies, egged on no doubt by their association, tell the RTO that they have unpaid loans on their 10 year old cabs and that if the RTO pulls their cab off the streets, they will not only be unable to feed their families, they will default on their loans. The administration for reasons unknown, cannot allow cabbies to default on their loans. Perhaps they think it will affect the Mumbai economy the way sub-prime loan defaults in the housing market are affecting the US markets. Or perhaps they worry about the credit scores of their taxi-owner friends. One doesn’t know.

The administration’s largesse is having unintended consequences. The cabbies are now refusing to pay back the loans altogether. They say that they will keep paying the interest, but remaining indebted was essential. Without that, their ancient relics would go off the roads. The lenders seem to be acquiescing.

Nice scheme. If you replace cabbies with labour reunions, cabs with sick companies and lenders with public sector banks, you get another problem that has plagued us for years – an exit policy for sick industries. Both situations are typical of the Indian democracy – vocal minority (cabbies) screwing the happiness of an uncaring tax-payer.


  1. Shreyasi says:

    Wow you write on mundane things affecting our lives with such insight, am amazed as always!


  2. Sunita Mohanty says:

    “Emotional blackmail” thy name is India!!!


  3. Anuradha says:

    Thats what we call ‘Jugaad’, the purest form of day to day innovation in placed where you may never expect them.


  4. Saudamini Rao says:

    James Miller described democracy as the “tyranny of the majority”. In this case, it is the tyranny of the minority (the cab wallahs). How you have linked this to the macro scenario is astonishingly true. We derive profound learnings from your simple observations. It was a treat to read this.


  5. Suvendu says:

    Looks like “Once a Mumbiker, always the one” or more appropriately “You leave Mumbai, Mumbai still remains”. That’s the magic of this city, ever present, omni-active and carefree and care-less (not an typo;giving an example- The day Mumbai blast occured in 2003, I tried contacting folks there and they seem to be happy about that. You know why? Local trains are empty and they had a easy ride. What madness?). That’s how Mumbai is and it’s people. The way it bounces back after every catastrophy is a resounding example of its resilience and tenacity to survive.

    Thanks Basab for this realistic nore on Mumbai cabbies!


  6. Dhruvi says:

    I was redirected to this site when I was trying to understand why certain taxis in Mumbai have names of areas written at the back. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.


  7. Basab says:


    I think that is because at the end of the shift they want to be able to get a passenger that takes them closer to where their base is. This helps.


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