The second phase of odd-even scheme brought to fore the fierce struggle drivers of autorickshaws and black and yellow taxi drivers find themselves locked in with app-based cab aggregators such as Uber and Ola.
Several autorickshaw unions in the city called a strike on April 18, the first working day after the launch of round two of the odd-even scheme. However, they relented after the government “agreed” to their demands. The strike, called against cab aggregators and to press for other demands, was called off a few hours before it was to start.
A few days later, the government did take on the cab aggregators, warning them against “overcharging” in the name of surge pricing. Ola and Uber immediately fell in line, suspending surge pricing. But Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s action was not a direct concession to the demands of the autorickshaw drivers.
“These cab companies cheat the people of Delhi by luring them with showcase prices like Rs 6 per km, but when people sign in on the app, surge prices appear. But people still choose them and not us because we appear to be more expensive. We legally drive our cabs at the government rate of Rs 12.50 per km, yet it is unauthorised cab aggregators which have been making money and poaching our customers,” said Sandeep Kumar, the driver of a black and yellow taxi.
“During odd-even, we were supposed to benefit, but most people were taking Ola and Uber. We suffered during the first phase of the scheme, which is why we decided to strongly agitate during the second phase,” he added.
Of the eight major autorickshaw unions, the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, and the Delhi Pradesh Taxi Union were the most determined to go on strike. Other auto unions, some affiliated to the Congress and the AAP, backed off at the government’s behest. The breakthrough came after a meeting between the agitated auto unions and the government.
“The government agreed to most of their demands, especially for a fare revision by May and lending drivers an ear when commuters registered complaints against them with the government,” said Transport Minister Gopal Rai. However, auto unions see the move as more a political strategy than a welfare measure, linking the government’s decision to MCD elections.
“We had not demanded a fare hike. We were against Ola and Uber plying illegally on Delhi roads and affecting our livelihood. The government called meeting with us and announced it was looking into our general demands so that we call off the strike which would have hit commuters during odd-even second phase. But the government did not address our primary demand,” said Kishan Verma of All Delhi Auto Taxi Transporters’ Congress Union.
“Auto drivers have been a strong political base for the AAP. We brought the AAP to power and they know our strength and mobility in the capital. That is why, just in time for the MCD elections, they announced they are looking into our demands. They did not pay us any attention in the last one year though we have been continuously protesting, petitioning and holding dharnas,” Verma added.
With the proliferation of app-based cabs services, strikes and protests by traditional transport systems are bound to continue. Thousands of traditional black-cab drivers went on strike against Uber in London in February. A similar strike in Paris a month ago escalated into arson and led to arrests. Nearer home, the Kerala government reined in surge pricing policies for app-based cabs. Metros across India are facing the heat of the increasing friction between the rapidly growing market for technology-based transport options and traditional ones.
According to drivers across the spectrum in the capital, app-based cabs are here to stay. “Who wants to wait in the sun, haggle with four autorickshaw drivers after which only one will agree to go, at an arbitrarily set price. Anyone can choose a cab over phone. The cab comes to their doorstep and quietly drives them to their destination. They pay the amount generated by the billing system without as much as a word exchanged with the driver,” said Radhe Shyam, who drives with a cab aggregator. He used to drive a yellow and black taxi offering prepaid service.