For one month in 2019, 33-year-old Worli resident Bhakti Maru, was taking the road from Mumbai‘s Worli Naka to Phoenix to a new gym she had joined. What perplexed her was un-uniformed men handling traffic a little before the traffic lights of the junction.
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Then one evening, while waiting for the signal to clear, she decided to inquire.
“Every day, I noticed that a different plain-clothed man was directing cars, helping ease traffic, and I wondered who they were. Recently, while waiting for a long signal to turn green, I finally asked one of them and discovered that they were taxi drivers,” says Maru.
For the past year, 80 cabbies, who ply sharing taxis on Ganpat Rao Kadam Marg, taking people to and from Lower Parel station, had been taking turns to handle the traffic there. This stretch is nearly 4.6 km long.
34-year-old Subodh More, who came up with the idea, gives us a background. He says, “The dig-up for Metro 3 work (on E Moses Road) had already increased congestion here. And then, a year ago, when the Lower Parel bridge (Delisle Road Bridge) came down, it worsened matters and caused traffic to be diverted to this small road.”
The Lower Parel bridge was pulled down on 24 July 2018—a decision taken after it was found unsafe during inspections, following the Gokhale Bridge collapse on July 3. The bridge connected Andheri East to Andheri West, and as per reports, had given way following heavy rains; six people had suffered injuries in the mishap, of which two died a few weeks later.
More adds, “The excess traffic on this road (Ganpat Rao Kadam Marg) was causing great inconvenience to everyone—commuters were tired of being stuck in traffic for long periods, and we too began seeing a dip in business. The main junction does have 3-4 traffic cops, but during peak hours, it’s difficult to manage. Even they can only do so much. That’s when I thought we should help out and met with others to bring them onboard.”
Their business has still not fully recovered.
Of the total 80 sharing taxis on this route, 40 ply in the morning and 40 in the evening, for a fee of Rs 10/passenger. During peak hours—8 am-11 am and 6.30 pm-9 pm—taxi drivers who don’t have a shift, handle the traffic on a rotational basis.
Explaining this route and the new diversion, Jitendra Kadam, 38, says, “This stretch (Ganpatrao Kadam Marg) mostly sees corporate employees, who are our main customers, as there are many office buildings here—like Peninsula and Marathon. From the main junction, vehicles could previously only to go left towards E Moses Road, but now they can also go straight to Haji Ali (the famous dargah) and right towards Worli Sea Face.”
Maru is one of the many who avoids the Metro-3-ravaged E Moses Road, previously the general preference for people heading to High Street Phoenix, one of India’s largest shopping malls; she now finds Ganpatrao Kadam Marg “quicker and shorter”.
Kadam, who has been working as a taxi driver since five years, adds, “To aid in de-congestion, we deploy 1-3 of our people (fellow taxi men) at three places on this route—Shriram Mills; Urmi Estate, because it has a big junction, without a signal; and Worli Naka junction. If it gets unmanageable, we stand at the Peninsula signal too. Even on our one off-day, we compulsorily do a two-hour traffic duty, turn by turn. The head of traffic also appreciates what we’re doing because if there’s a jam, we get calls immediately.”
A lady traffic officer, who mans traffic at the Worli Naka junction, says, “We used to ask the cabbies to turn from near the signal because we stand there, but they wanted to turn a little earlier and said they would manage traffic there. It doesn’t help us much, we still have to do our jobs, and when there’s excessive traffic, even regular police personnel join us. But it works for them.”
Maru, a commuter, believes it does make quite a difference. “The cabbies manage the traffic very efficiently. As the lane is small, earlier, we were only allowed to take a left (on E Moses Road) towards Mahalaxmi Station from here. Now, we are also allowed to take a right, which I take on my return towards Worli Sea Face. As this signal to go right opens for a short period, to de-congest, these taxi drivers mobilise a third line when traffic from the opposite side isn’t coming. In this way, our line gets cleared much quicker than it otherwise would have. It might be something they started for their business, but it’s really helping everyone. It made me very happy seeing them give back to society.”
Subodh More says that it’s not the first time that they have taken up an initiative. Earlier this year, on Labour Day (May 1), they gave free rides all day. As a form of customer-care, they made Rajendra Shoe Shop near the Worli Naka junction, belonging to Kadam’s brother, a collection place for lost property. If any commuters inquired about any belongings they had left behind, they could get them back.
With their initiatives, these taxi drivers have turned a nightmarish traffic situation caused by the city’s crumbling infrastructure into a reiteration of the spirit of this Maximum City. Perhaps, the very spirit that attracts migrants here from all over the country.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)