UNIONS REPRESENTING autorickshaw and taxi drivers in Mumbai have advised members to install plastic separator sheets in vehicles as safety precautions for their own health as well as to minimise contact with passengers.
A L Quadros, who heads Mumbai Taximen’s Union, said he received verbal instructions from the state transport department last week to adopt safeguarding measures for themselves and passengers.
The state government has allowed a maximum of two passengers in taxis and autorickshaws but restricted travel only during an emergency.
“Drivers don’t know where passengers come from. These sheets are vital in protecting their health,” Quadros said, adding that the union was in talks with Sound FX, a garage in Andheri (East), to get sheets installed in taxis at a subsidised cost of Rs 500 each.
“Very few garages are operational at the moment. We have approached this garage after learning that it has been installing separators in cars and advised drivers to go there,” Quadros said. He added that only 30 per cent of Mumbai’s 45,000 taxi drivers were presently in the city, with the rest having returned to native villages.
Shashank Rao, who heads Mumbai Autorickshaw Taximen’s Union, said he had also urged drivers to get separator sheets installed as soon as garages opened. “Most autorickshaw drivers do not have any money left and may not be able to immediately afford this additional expense. But in the days to come, we would want all of them to install separators,” he said. Rao said over 50,000 of Mumbai’s two lakh autorickshaw drivers had left the city over the past month and a half but have started to return.
Mohammad Yusuf from Kurla (East), the first to get a separator sheet installed in his autorickshaw last week, said the plastic covering isolated him completely. “So much so that I can neither feel any air coming in nor hear what passengers say,” he said.
Yusuf has been driving sparingly, only ferrying elderly or ill people in his locality to hospital. Since getting the sheet installed, Yusuf said he had been driving with a sense of security.
“A lot of customers do not take hygiene seriously and neglect using hand sanitiser or don’t wear mask. A lot of them also cough openly. It is scary to drive with such passengers,” he said.
After watching an interview of Sound FX owner Vicky Nagpal last month, Yusuf went to him to ask for a custom design.
Nagpal, who has developed separators of varying quality, thickness and cost, depending on the type of vehicle, designed a plastic sheet measuring 4×3 feet for Yusuf’s autorickshaw, along with leather borders and Velcro patches.
“The most important thing was to make something cheap and affordable and which would give drivers confidence to go to work,” said Nagpal. His garage charges autorickshaw drivers Rs 150 for separator sheets and waives off installation charges.
Nagpal’s separator sheets for autorickshaws can be easily installed and detached. “It is a risk to leave the cover on after parking the vehicle for the day. Someone could easily slash it with a knife or burn holes with a cigarette. I take the cover out at the end of each day and wash it before attaching it back the next day,” said Yusuf.
Yusuf’s novel initiative has also caught the attention of fellow drivers. “I have been telling everyone I meet to install a separator sheet,” he said.
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