A majority of autorickshaws operating in Pune City and Pimpri-Chinchwad have gone off the roads since Monday morning as part of an indefinite strike against the operations of bike taxis.
Though all autorickshaw unions are not part of the strike, very few autorickshaws could be seen on the roads as workers of unions leading the strike requested others to stay away in solidarity with their cause. The strike is being coordinated by the Bhagtoy Rickshawala Forum spearheaded by Keshav Nanasaheb Kshirsagar.
On Monday morning, protesters gathered in front of the Pune RTO and parked their autorickshaws on both lanes of the road. The police had a tough time keeping the road open for vehicular traffic. “The protest will continue until the option of hiring a bike taxi from mobile applications, such as Ola, Uber and Rapido, is removed. We will continue this protest peacefully without resorting to any violence,” Kshirsagar said at the protest.
As a result of the strike, buses in the city were overcrowded and people, especially women, faced trouble boarding buses. “I came to Pune this morning by train from Chandrapur. After reaching, I realised that there was an autorickshaw strike in the city. Also, Ola and Uber taxis are not accepting bookings. We managed to get into a bus and reached Swargate. Now I don’t see how I can reach Sinhagad College where I study business administration. The buses are too full to get into,” said a woman who did not wish to disclose her name.
In an apparent move to pacify the autorickshaw drivers, the Pune RTO had recently filed a complaint against Jagdish Patil, the manager (Pune) of bike taxi aggregator Rapido, over the firm’s allegedly “illegal” operations in the city.
The rickshaw unions maintained that bike taxis, that operate in a policy vacuum in Maharashtra, have been plying “illegally” and hampering their business. They demanded that the RTO must take action against them and stop their operations permanently. Amid pressure from autorickshaw drivers’ unions, the RTO conducted several drives against bike taxi aggregators, including Rapido, over the past few years and seized hundreds of bike taxis for a month. It also imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on such bike taxis.
Kshirsagar said that over the last year, several autorickshaw unions in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad have given written requests to the Pune RTO seeking to stop “illegal bike taxi” services.
“It appears that there is a nexus between the officers and bike taxi companies as over 70,000 to 80,000 illegal taxis are operating in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. The FIR that was filed a few days ago is very weak and has no mention of senior officials of Rapido. Bike taxis of this company continue to operate,” he said.
There are over 1 lakh registered autorickshaws in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, with a majority of them being added to the roads since 2017 when the state government lifted the embargo on issuing fresh rickshaw permits. While the addition of fresh autorickshaws on the road increased the competition for individual drivers, they faced additional competition with the advent of app-based taxi-hailing services. The issue worsened when bike taxis too started operating in the city.