Last week, drivers working for taxi aggregators like Ola and Uber went on a strike in many cities of the country, including in Pune and Mumbai. The strike had differing degrees of impact in different cities. In Pune and Mumbai, the taxis were back on the road after a day, though the truce between the drivers and the management seems temporary.
Driving Ola and Uber cabs was considered lucrative, with some drivers reportedly earning around Rs one lakh every month in bigger cities. However, as more and more taxis come on the road, and riders called them for even short distances, the profits have apparently been dwindling. The striking drivers were complaining that incentives that were promised to them when they joined had been stopped, leading to 50 per cent reduction in their incomes in some cases.
Leaders of the transport wing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which had called the strike, claimed that while joining, drivers were promised payments worth Rs one lakh a month, but were currently making barely Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 per month. The drivers were demanding reinstatement of all incentives, and an improved share of earnings. They also demanded that those who had been blacklisted because of user ratings or other reasons be taken back, and the low-fare low-distance rides be discontinued.
The number of these taxis has grown exponentially in Pune, as it has in most other cities of the country. In the year 2015-16, there were 6,217 new registrations for taxis in the city. The next year, the number more than doubled, reaching 12,617. Most of these were affiliated to one of the several aggregator companies. RTO officials say growth in the number of taxis has been due to the popularity of Ola and Uber services.
The total number of taxis is estimated to be in excess of 25,000. Of these, about 20,000 were estimated to have gone off the roads during the strike on Monday. In Mumbai, nearly 60,000 taxis went off the roads. The few taxis that were available in the city were charging two to three times more than the normal fare, causing immense hardship to commuters. At the airport and railway stations, the hubs from where these taxis get the maximum number of passengers, there were long waiting times to get a taxi.
Pune has around 40,000 auto-rickshaws, which were carrying the bulk of passengers till a few years ago. The auto-rickshaw unions have always been opposed to the taxi aggregators and have even petitioned the government to ban their services, claiming they were illegal.
The strike was supposed to be for an indefinite period but was called off after just one day, following meetings between the drivers’ unions and the aggregator companies they work for. Representatives of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has many of the drivers affiliated to it, also participated.
The strike was called off on the assurance of the companies that they would look into the demands of the drivers. In a statement, Uber said it had taken note of the concerns of the drivers and was looking into their feedback.
Ola management also issued a similar statement, saying it will consider the demands. The MNS, however, claimed that the companies had already accepted the demands of the drivers.