What does a traveler coming out of an airport after a long journey desire? First thing could be searching a relative, friend, known face or contact who has come to receive at the airport gates. If this is found, it also solves the problem of transportation into the city. If there is no such comfort of a known face or contact, the next thing could be transportation into the city. It is the same whether the destination is a hotel or one’s own house. A peaceful and comfortable ride without hassles of luggage handling is one thing that anybody wants at that point in time.
Modern airports have many solutions to meet this requirement. There are metro services linking the airports with city areas that provide efficient and fast transportation. Many airports have bus service that are comfortable and cheap. If both these are not available, the only alternative is to take a taxi ride.
There would be good experiences as well as bad ones when one compares what was faced on the several such trips taken in the past. The details of the experiences would certainly vary. But the establishment and following of the systems indeed makes the difference to such experiences.
A reflection on these issues, while sitting at the CDG airport at Paris for a connecting flight, indeed brings out very interesting aspects of such encounters in different cities.
As you come out of Bengaluru International Airport, the only two alternatives available are the taxi service and city transport buses. Metro is said to be coming, may be at the times of our grandchildren. City buses are fine for those traveling with a handbag. Even here, the way in which the buses are parked at the terminal reminds of the maze games one plays on their mobiles. Those arriving with heavy luggage, especially after long international flights, have the only option of taxis to take them up to their doors. Usually there is a line of waiting taxis ready to hire, but the process of reaching one's destination is often painful.
Though waiting in the line for a fare, the cab driver is more interested in knowing where you want to go than yourself. Some of them ask other fellow drivers in the line if they are interested, in case the location is not to their liking. They are happy with passengers who have little or no luggage. Heavy luggage puts them off. When the car boot is opened, the driver waits to see if you volunteer to handle the luggage yourself. More often than not, you find the boot dirty with a bucket and dirty cloth occupying the place that is actually meant for baggage. Popular taxi operators do not provide the option of bigger vehicles for airport duty. The taxi driver will be generous to offer help to you in such situations. He suggests that you hire another taxi exclusively for the luggage. There was an instance when two of us arrived with four suitcases. The driver was kind to suggest that we take two taxis and one person with two bags can travel in one taxi. Problem was easily solved! There are private operators who provide bigger vehicles but they are parked away from the gates. You have to walk the extra distance to get into them. Their charges are also very high.
Once in the taxi, the problems are not over. The driver asks you the route he should take. When you give the route, he offers many explanations why it should not be taken. Ultimately he takes the route he wants. Married people understand this system, but unmarried people find it strange. Many of them do not know even important landmarks and you are required to give directions. Strangers to the city have a big problem on their hands. Drivers ask about the place from which you have arrived. If you answer, there will be further questions. The drivers are often shabbily dressed and unshaven. If you ask them why they are so, they say that their duty hours are like that. Even if the taxi company claims that their cabs are all AC vehicles, the drivers do not use AC. If you insist, they grudgingly act or advise that it is not required for Bangalore weather conditions. Most of them get calls on mobile while driving and unhesitatingly receive them without excuse. After all, it is his cab, his mobile and his own friend calling him. The calls are usually long and mostly centers on where is he and how many trips he did that day. Fortunately, no additional charges are levied for giving all this information to you.
As the cab eases from the airport and reaches the tollbooth, he stretches his hand for the toll charges. There is no system of paying the toll and collecting along with the fare at the end of the journey. Once toll is paid and the cab is on the highway, he switches on Radio City or Mirchi FM and you are given a generous dose of the music he wants. If you ask him to switch off, he scares you that if he does so, he may doze off. I once suggested to a cab driver to use earphones. He said that ear phones disturbs their concentration! Cab companies claim that card payments are accepted but many of them do not do so for some reason or the other. When you reach your hotel or house, you are indeed relieved. The memory of cab ride erases whatever problems you had on the flights!
A line of taxis wait outside CDG airport in Paris. The next taxi moves towards you. The driver is well dressed and polite. If you have more pieces of luggage, a bigger vehicle from the line comes to you. The cab driver picks the luggage and arranges neatly in the clean boot. You have to give the destination address. The drivers know the roads and lanes and you are taken up to the building you are looking for. They do not talk unnecessarily on the way, During our last visit, there was a charge of one Euro baggage handling charge per piece of luggage. There were no charges for small items carried inside the cab.
The system has been further streamlined now. The fair table is more simple. The amount to be paid from CDG airport to left bank is 55 Euros. It is 50 Euros for the right bank. Irrespective of the distance amount is the same. Left and right banks refer to the banks of the river Seine that flows through the city. If it is from Orly airport, the fares are 35 and 30 Euros respectively. The fare is the same whether it is during day or night or rush hour. It is the same on week days and weekends. There is no extra fare for baggage now. The fare is same for up to 4 passengers. An additional 4 Euros are charged for each passenger in excess of four. Drivers have earphones if they desire to listen to their choice tunes. If a cab is called on phone from home to go to airport, it arrives within minutes. The cab driver handles the baggage. Extra politeness is shown to the aged and differently abled. Overall, it would be a pleasant experience.
The purpose of this post is not to suggest that the systems are excellent everywhere and our systems are bad. There could be bad experiences elsewhere also. There may be good experience in Bengaluru as well.
We have a long way to go in improving our cab services if our tourism is to progress and traveler friendly, and making our cities popular tourist destinations.