A token strike called by the Rickshaw Panchayat, a union of autorickshaw owners and drivers , threw life of thousands of Puneites out of gear. To make matters worse, ‘radio taxi’ services including ‘Ola Cabs’ and Wings Radio Cabs remained off the roads following an attack on some cabs. Office-goers and Class X students who had to appear for board exams and their parents were the worst hit.
The anger of autorickshaw union stems from the fact that radio cab service providers have ‘eaten into’ their business. The auto panchayat demanded that the Regional Transport Officers (RTO) shut down radio cab services which “operat illegally”. They say cabs that have a tourism permit can’t operate as inter-city transporters. Rickshaw unions are unhappy with the proposed hike in vehicle insurance premium.
The strike inconvenienced commuters. The worst-affected were Class X (CBSE) students and their parents as they had to struggle to travel to and from examination centres. Senior citizens and office-goers, too, were affected. “I don’t rely too much on rickshaws as the drivers are seldom co-operative. I booked a cab to drop my son from home to the exam centre. But the cab did not arrive. I had to request a relative to drop him using a private vehicle,” said Bharat Ubale, of N T Wadi near Shivajinagar.
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A few autorickshaws were spotted in the morning. By afternoon and towards evening, sighting a moving rickshaw was rare. At many spots auto union members stopped few rickshaws that moved and made passengers get down. Scores of passengers could be seen at PMPML bus stops.
Leaders of the autorickshaw union said they had no option than go on strike. They said if cab companies are allowed to operate, they will take away their business and rickshaw drivers will struggle to earn a leaving.
“Tourist cabs have no legitimacy working as usual radio cabs. They don’t have the required permit. These illegally operating services have taken away a big chunk of our business. We can’t compete with them as RTO and Police Department clamp restrictions on our operations. Cab services do not follow any rules,” said Nitin Pawar, convener, Riksha Panchayat.