Yellow taxis in Kolkata can be termed as an icon of heritage on wheels. Despite being powered by diesel vehicles, there is one yellow taxi in the city that can be termed as a garden taxi or green taxi, not because of its colour, but for the wide variety of plants on board.
Yellow taxi in Kolkata is not only a mode of transportation, rather an emotional icon to the city. The 1957 built ambassadors produced by Hindustan Motors, first started rolling on the roads of ‘City of joy’. For decades, these cars hold their elegance, reined on the Indian roads.
When the white colour with flashing red or blue lights on top was typically meant for the politicians, bureaucrats; the bright yellow and mid-lined navy blue ambassadors put life to city roads for the common people. But then the king became old. Ending to an era, Hindustan Motors shuts its door and the last ambassador was produced on May 24, 2014.
Despite the yellow taxis diminishing into oblivion, the faint glory still remains.
The new age of Ola, Uber and other e-taxis beat the yellow taxis by their availability, convenience, fare charges etc. But the glory of the yellow taxis, remained the same, as it became a city heritage. Despite the yellow taxis diminishing into oblivion, the faint glory still remains. With time, people are interested to invest more in e-taxis than yellow ones. But, there are exceptions and protectors of the heritage on wheels and that too with a touch of green uniqueness.
Autofintechs met such an exceptional man in Kolkata named Dhananjay Chakraborty aka Bapi, who owns a yellow taxi as well as a white one. It is the only yellow taxi running in the heart of the city, spreading greens in the concrete structures. Here goes a small interaction with him.
Q. A taxi with plants onboard. Where did this idea come from?
It’s a long story. I did not get the opportunity to study much and started working as a child labourer in the factories during my early days. But the factories started locking down one after another. I had to opt for other career choices and coincidentally ended up being a driver.
When I used to drive through the Kolkata lanes, witnessed people cutting trees everywhere to expand the city. The concrete jungle is gulping the city greens every day. This is where the idea came from.
I wanted to do something to save the greens, wanted to share a message to everyone to save trees. Then a sudden contradictory thought came to my mind that I am a mere taxi driver. Why should people listen to me? And I decided to do it in my own way, started planting greens in the car, on the top of the car.
Q. Is there any particular kind of plants that you grow in the car?
Yes. It’s mostly the succulents that require less watering, can adjust in any weather condition and easy to grow. Earlier I used to grow flowering plants as well but it had hassles. People pluck the flowers and tear the leaves and branches for no reason or maybe just to check whether these plants are real or not. These plants require a lot of effort to grow and more daily care.
Q. What is the base you use for plantation on the top of your cab? Or what makes you assure that the body of the car is not affected by this plantation cause?
It is a fine layer of soil on top but mostly a thick layer of coco peat in the base. It is lighter in weight and does not affect much in the body of the car.
Q. You have been gifting plants to your passengers. Doesn’t this impact your earnings?
I gift the plants to my passengers for a social cause and usually, I grow those saplings on my own. But due to the Covid lockdown, I am unable to run my cabs this time. Nor gifting the plants. But in near future, I would definitely love to start that again.
Q. For this eco-drive campaign, did you ever receive any sponsorship or any kind of monetary assistance?
Never. I received fake promises from different sources, tried to reach for government assistance, but all in vain. I even asked for a Kolkata-Delhi-Kolkata drive project sponsorship, where I wanted to take both my vehicles to Delhi to visit the President of India. Throughout the journey, I decided to plant and sow more greens and perform various awareness activities with the locals. But my dream remained a dream only!
Q. How long have you been in this profession?
It’s almost been 20 years of my journey. Earlier I worked as a chauffeur, then I invested in my own taxi and that too I am driving for the last 12 years!
Affording the huge fuel price is an added burden for individual taxi owners.
Q. From then to now, the city has experienced a lot of changes when it comes to taxi rides. From yellow taxis to app cabs, how do you see the changes?
I think it was better earlier. Nowadays, Ola, Uber-like competitors have captured the market and the yellow taxi business is kind of drowning. Affording the huge fuel price is an added burden for individual taxi owners like us. We cannot compete with ride-hailing companies. The market is really down for us.
Q. The pandemic has impacted the transportation business severely. The high oil prices have added salt to the wound. How are you coping with that?
None of my two taxis is running on the road currently. During the 2020 lockdown, I provided emergency services to the passengers in need. Be it Covid patients or non-Covid ones, I served them at a considerably low rate. But, this time due to the high oil price, I am unable to take my taxis out of the garage.
Q. You have one yellow taxi and a white ambassador. Is that white one registered under any ride-sharing app?
No. The white one I use as a private cab, not registered under any app. I take her out for my guests for a city tour and whatever I earn from this, I reinvest it in her. For the car maintenance, for the plant care, I use the same.
Q. If you are not running your own taxis, then what are you doing now?
Being unable to run my own taxis, I am working as a chauffeur again. Suppose, I got a passenger for Rs 100. Now, while coming back, the fuel cost comes to Rs 120. So it is in no way possible to run a taxi.
Q. The current generation is more focused on gadgets, virtual world than the real world around us. How do you see the response from them towards your eco-drive campaign?
See, yellow taxi is a heritage to this city. Be it a movie shot or an ad, if it is in Kolkata, it has to be a yellow taxi only. I even saw the International Film Festival posters around the city featuring the yellow taxis themselves. But neither people could nurture this sentiment, nor the government supported us. And this happened because of some dishonest taxi drivers who harassed the passengers in every possible way.
As a result, we suffered and the yellow taxi business could not sustain itself. Youngsters these days prefer riding air-conditioned cabs, waiting at their doorsteps. They are opting for Ola, Uber-like ride-hailing services and the yellow cabs losing their significance day by day.
Q. Being aware of the business scenario, you are still not interested in registering your cabs in recent ride-sharing services?
No. I am not. As I already told you that I have a social cause of eco-drive campaign. I have a clear message to reach people. Despite knowing the business scenario these days, I am trying to protect our heritage. I am trying to contribute something to nature. So, I decided not to leave this yellow taxi business. I decided not to put any air-conditioner in my cabs. I even faced rejections from people for not having the air-conditioner. But I was then and I am still sticking to my point that I am against any further environmental pollution. To keep the car naturally cool from the inside, I rather planted some more green.
Q. You have been known for your pro-environment drives. Would you like to shift your vehicle to electric mobility from diesel ones?
Of course, I would love to. I know, by running these diesel cars I am causing harm to the environment. Hence, am putting my best effort to balance this by planting more and more greens. In fact, each of one us should do this to save our environment. Given the chance, I would definitely love to switch to electric mobility but money is the main constraint. If I got any sponsorship or any monetary support, would definitely accept the proposal.