Chennai: One of the few places where you can see scores of classic black-and-yellow tinted Ambassador taxis still running is the Chennai Airport. And yet, with the absolute dominance of the smaller and faster Indicabs, fares for the 500-odd registered ‘prepaid’ airport taxis are hard to come by. This resentment spilled over on Sunday night and a few of the old-timers got into a verbal and physical duel with a few private taxi drivers and the airport police had to separate them.
“It was unavoidable. No one is helping us keep our business so we had to step in,” said Maria Durairaj, secretary of the Chennai Airport Prepaid Taxis Drivers and Owners Association. The old meter taxis as they are called, have been operating inside the airport as part of a government-approved prepaid service for the last 23 years. “In order to help us, the State government issued a GO in 1989 and allowed us the right to operate taxis from the airport,” recalled Durairaj, who has been driving taxis for over four decades.
However, the entry of unauthorised private taxicabs targetting mostly foreigners has really hit them. “We used to get at least five trips per taxi, a year ago. But now, if we get three trips, we consider it a good day,” he rued.
Private cabs usually work through touts who position themselves at the arrival counters and hook international tourists and steer them to these waiting taxis. “They speak English and offer them rates that are a little lower than our rates. Foreigners don’t really know the difference and their cars look better and have better airconditioners,” lamented Rajavel, another Ambassador cab driver.
Along with these quaint old taxicabs, the only other services that are authorised to park and pick up passengers inside the airport are Fastrack and Aviation Express, said airport director H S Suresh. He acknowledged that the problem of touts and unauthorised taxis has continued even after they asked the police to intervene. “Most of them buy monthly passes and they come and go at will. No one can question them,” he said.
However, the fact remains that it is a security risk that any taxi driver with a parking pass can enter the airport without any problem. “Once the surveillance camera are installed in the parking lot, we will be able to keep tabs on these touts and taxis,” he concluded.
Under the watchful eyes of the cops, the airport remained free of trouble on Monday, but the Ambassador cab drivers are hopeful that they can extend their run. Despite the airport getting newer, sleeker and fancier, they hope to remain just the same.