“Our way to office was never as relaxing as today!” Yes, this is what Mumbaikars felt on Monday as the roads of India’s financial capital experienced gridlock-free peak hours. Congested roads have been a constant headache for Mumbai and the indefinite strikeby Uber and Ola drivers, which started from March 19, has actually given the city a solution to the daily monstrous traffic jams.
The strikebegan at midnight on Sunday, centred on Mumbai and was spearheaded by Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra NavnirmanSena’s transport union Vahtuk Sena. Drivers of both Ola and Uber app-based taxi services have alleged “mismanagement” by the company authorities and threatened an indefinite strike targeting the operations in major metro cities including Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune among others.But it seems like their agenda has faded into insignificance as private cab-free smooth roads actually gave some free air to the passengers and daily commuters were surprisingly happy.
Sanjay Naik, President of Maharashtra NavnirmanVahatukSena (MNVS) protested that both Ola and Uber are running illegally, without any permission or proper licenses. He further stated, “The public transport service like taxis and autos have very strict rules like uniform and code of conduct. We also want the same rules to be applied in the app-based cab services. In 2017, Maharashtra government introduced Transport Act totreat Ola and Uber drivers on par with taxi drivers but the owner companies went to the court.”
“Since so many years, they are looting people. If government don’t support taxi and auto drivers, we will start our protest on roads and will commit suicide. Our next action will be decided soon,” he added.
While thedrivers claimed to be cheated by the company owners, they have demanded guaranteed business of Rs 1.25 lakh every month,reinstatement of blacklisted drivers who according to them have been boycotted after they voiced against the company policies and removal of company-owned cars.Ola and Uber see this agitation as a politically motivated stunt by drivers who are the victim of political influences. Close to 60,000 cabs were reportedly off the roads in the city on Monday and both the firms have blamed the violent troublemakers as the reason of non-availability of cars.
Girish Patki, a Mulund resident, expressed that the most important thing is to solve the drivers’ problems first. “Ultimately, they need to feed their families and repay their car loans! Companies can provide them with better compensation. We should not politicise this issue and rather give justice to the protestors.”
Nevertheless, these cab services are neither customer-friendly nor safe and sound most of the times as its navigation can only track the route but cannot prevent any mishap. Physical assault of alone passengersby these drivers are frequently in news. Misbehaving, ride cancellations without information, three to four times price surge on peak hours or during rainy days are few of the many inconveniences faced by the users of these app-based taxi services.
These drivers are also accused of hacking the policies of their respective firms to earn more money — surge pricing fraud, outstation fraud are amongst such trickeries. In surge pricing fraud, during peak hours drivers intentionally go offline making the supply low, thus increasing the fare and get online soon after the charges plunge. In outstation rides, drives are blamed for requesting passengers to cancel the ride and in return to take the customer on its own at a reduced fare than earlier.
On the condition on anonymity, a resident of Borivali said, “Those who travel daily by Ola may suffer due to strike but there are many options available in the city like local trains, taxis, autorickshaws and buses. So, the strike shouldn’t be an issue for the commuters.”
Earning of autorickshaw drivers or on-demand drivers have got majorly affected as people are more attracted to take cab services than burning more money to maintain their own private vehicles. Mumbai definitely comes to a standstill on days when autorickshaw drivers go on strikes, but the agendas of Ola and Uber drivers have been knocked down by Mumbaikars as the island city welcomed the unclogged roads.
When AV spoke to Viraj Chouhan, the Chief Communications Officer of Ola, he stated, “This protest is a mere politically-influenced one. We have more than 10 lakh drivers but it seems that only 30-40 drivers are opposing the company policies.”
When asked about what will be his firm’s take on drivers’ demands, he replied, “We blacklisted some drivers who misbehaved with female passengersafter getting complaints time and again. We are inflexible in maintaining our company policies. We value our customers and have immense respect for women. Those who agitated, police took them in custody under section 149. The strike failed to make impact beyond Mumbai. All cabs are working in major cities pan India.”