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“I was taken to the side and asked about my work uniform,” says Aslam Khan (38), driver of an Ola cab, popular cab aggregator. “A few months ago, a traffic cop questioned me on why I was not wearing a uniform. I replied that our job does not demand a uniform. There is no mandate of a dress code,” Khan says.
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The 38-year-old says times are about to change for drivers like him. With the Maharashtra government rolling out a revised draft of the City Taxi scheme earlier this month, many drivers say new regulations in terms of working hours, uniforms and permit rates are set to adversely impact their economic interest and freedom to work.
Under the revised draft of the Maharashtra City Taxi Scheme 2016, the state government has announced fixed working hours for drivers, compulsory uniforms, and badges on the uniforms during working hours.
It has also mandated an ‘App-based City Taxi permit’ under the Motor Vehicles Act, use of CNG/LPG fuel in all vehicles, and increased permit cost for vehicles above 1400 cc engine capacity to Rs 2 lakh per vehicle.
While suggestions and objections to the revised draft can be sent till November 5, drivers working for cab aggregators such as Ola and Uber have expressed disappointment over the changes.
“If we have to start wearing uniforms like other public transport service providers, what independence remains in our job? With a choice in working hours, driving an Ola was much more profitable and comfortable. Things will get difficult for us under the new rules,” Aslam says.
Last year, Aslam had switched to being an Ola driver from a kaali-peeli considering higher economic returns and ease of work. “As a kaali-peeli driver, I would often face problems with getting passengers and would have to wait in queues at fixed taxi stands. Also, frequent bandhs by taxi unions compelled us to shut our service, resulting in not enough business. With Ola, the passengers come to us and returns are higher too,” he says.
The easy rules of operation for cab aggregators had led to a rise in the number of entrepreneurs operating fleets of cabs under this service. Many had also joined in as part-time drivers, who would drive cabs for a few hours to make easy money.
However, higher permit costs and letting go off the tourist permits, under which cab aggregators operate at present, will increase their troubles, drivers say.
“The increase in permit costs is nothing but loot of poor drivers who can drive an app-based cab only thanks to some knowledge of technology. What is the need of another permit when we already have a tourist permit? If a nod is given to the revised rules now, the cost of the permit may be hiked in the future too,” says Arif Sayyed (35), an Uber aggregator who switched to Ola later,
With a uniform color code in place, Sayyed fears it may stop him from using his personal vehicle as an app-based cab on the road.
“While I have put my personal vehicle on the road as an app-based cab, I will hesitate to do so if the new rules are in place. With the uniform color code, we will be ashamed to take out our personal cars with a tourist number plate. We request the state to give us freedom to work and instead educate kaali-peeli drivers on recent technologies,” he adds.
While Ola has suggested that the government make some changes in the rules, they have agreed to follow them whenever they are in place. Uber has started an online petition asking users to vote against the rules as it would make the services unreliable for users.
“The basic theory behind being a cab aggregator is that anybody can be a driver. Here, you can drive cabs but not be categorised as a ‘driver’ per se. While one must look for practicality in these rules, it is all right for the government to implement them in the present scenario. Implementation of road safety rules must be the the priority.”
“However, the aggregator drivers must be given a leeway in charging differential fares at least,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.
Mumbai has around 20,000 app-based cabs such as Ola and Uber, in comparison to 40,000 black-and-yellow cabs and autorickshaws.
Cab drivers start petition
Mumbai: Around 20,000 drivers of Ola and Uber have started a petition to submit their suggestions on the revised draft of Maharashtra City Taxi scheme 2016. They have expressed disappointment over the government fixing their working hours, increasing permit costs and making CNG-run vehicles compulsory.
“The government cannot expect us to convert our diesel-run car engines into those running on cleaner fuels on an immediate basis. The new permit costs for bigger vehicles are also higher. Our petition requests consideration for our problems while implementing the rule,” said Srinivasan, app-based cab driver. ENS