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Kaali-Peelis coming closer to Mumbaikars

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As a Mumbaikar, I have grown up seeing kaali-peelis that were once a luxury transport for the average and common man and even celebrities preferred these mode of transport. Whatsoever it may be, but we all love them. Padmini entered Mumbai’s taxi market in the late 1960s when the Maharashtra government sought to inspire the products manufactured by local companies. The car was considered to be strong, economical and with better luggage space and legroom as compared to Ambassador. The car soon started dominating the city’s taxi fleet. In 1997, almost all of the over 60,000 taxis in Mumbai were Premier Padminis. This was one of the very first cars to hit the city roads in large numbers, marking the inception of the Indian automobile industry. An indigenized version of the Fiat 1100, the car debuted as Fiat 1100 Delight in 1964. In 1965, its name was changed to Premier President, and in 1974 it became the Premier Padmini.

The car went out of production in 2000 following a decade or so where its sales petered out as new, better, greener and more economical models flooded the market. Added to this, the government passed a law in 2013, which requires vehicles to be less than 20-years-old to run as taxis in Mumbai. The reasons for this decision are many including that they create more pollution and are less safe or comfortable for passengers. The famous kaali-peeli Padmini cabs of Mumbai streets have seen many ups and downs but they always remained the most favourite mode of transport for Mumbaikars.

After decades of major and minor changes, while recently competing with private car services like Ola and Uber, our very own and very old kali-peeli has become modernized. Transport minister Diwakar Raote launched a new app of taxi unions – Amachi (Our) Drive – that will allow Mumbaiites to book black-and-yellow AC and non-AC cabs as easily as Ola and Uber, without surge pricing. The new app will allow lakhs of taxis commuters to book black-and-yellow cabs without dealing with fare refusal. Also, the taxi drivers will pick up passengers from their doorstep. While there will be no surge pricing, commuters will have to pay Rs. 5 more than the government-approved fare to avail the facility. Passengers can pay using mobile wallets, which have offered Rs. 100 cash back for first three rides. Actually, the kali-peeli cabs failed to gain market share and sustain the competition in recent past; the attitude of drivers too changed a lot. Lack of marketing skills and untidy taxis started looking like any other mode of public transport. They were thrown out of the competition by cool cabs. The private cars were more maintained and the drivers were well trained with etiquettes and manners.

They were more customer friendly and convenient. In the recent past, people have started disliking a kali-peeli cab ride. That was big setback for these Mumbai’s very own taxis. Anyway, as everything has gone high-tech and reformed, these taxis too adopted modern way of getting connected to people. Now, they won’t be standing in queue on taxi stand, they would be one call away. Now you don’t have to reach them, they will come to your door step, now they won’t refuse fares, they will be at your service after booking. So much has changed with modern Mumbai. The Mumbai is also not the same as it was few years ago.
With changing time, everything in the city has transformed; my beloved Mumbai now has become more of a concrete jungle with all robots like people running with the speed of time. My Mumbai is diluted by all means. I feel nostalgic when I talk about Aamchi Mumbai and its old glory. Mumbai the cities of massive crowds, slums and buildings, somewhere lost in the modern era.

So the Premier Padmini taxi once Mumbai’s icon, with its often torn colourful seat covers, over the top religious, or Bollywood-themed, decorations, tinted windows and wobbly door handles. As rickety as these kali-peeli cabs get, it is impossible not to be drawn in by the old-world charm they offer, allowing you to overlook the peculiar quirks most of these old cabs tend to have – usually a door that doesn’t open or one which only opens from the outside etc. They have been replaced in the market with new make of cars, more sophisticated and ruthless.

With the launch of new app the service has come closer to you, if you ever wish to book a ride on these cabs. The app will have a panic button to report emergencies. Passengers can also check the estimated fare. Once they book the ride, they will receive a one-time password via SMS. This is the story of kali-peeli in Mumbai seen through the eyes of Taxi drivers: A Story of empathy and fear found among the people of the city, a city that never sleeps and the taxis that hardly halt. I am feeling happy, to see the good changes ahead. They are here to get closer to people of Mumbai.