Another taxi strike in Mumbai: Who will win this latest transport tussle?

Tuesday started with all the black and yellow taxis lined up at the stands. With hardly any cab running on the road, it became a challenge for the commuters to travel. Not just the kaali-peeli cabs but, even Ola and Uber had stopped operations. Apart from Ola share, no other cab was available. Uber, however, had completely halted its services.

This strike was called by the taxi drivers to protest against the fares charged by cab aggregators. Government officials are expected to meet on Tuesday to come up with a viable solution.

The ongoing struggle to bring app-based cabs and government regularised autorickshaws and taxis at par has begun in some states, including Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

According to a report by India Today, the Delhi government is expected to roll out a new policy for the taxi services soon. Officials say that the government plans to bring all taxi services on the same platform.

 Another taxi strike in Mumbai: Who will win this latest transport tussle?

The kaali peeli cabs halt their operations as a mark of protest. Picture: Darshana Jain

“The Delhi government is planning to set an upper limit for all taxi providers. No cab service provider, including Uber and Ola, would be allowed to surpass the government’s rate. This will give a suitable environment for everyone to operate,” the report quoted a senior official as saying.

Referring to this declaration by the Delhi government, the driver of a kaali-peeli, Rameshwar, of Mumbai said, “We want the same thing. If Ola and Uber charge as much as the cool cabs, we will stop protesting. That will make the market fair. We will get customers if we are lucky. It will depend on our luck then and not on discounts offered by some taxis.”

The basic demand of all the taxis and autorickshaws is that these app-based cabs should come under the ambit of the state government. Further, they demand that these services should not be allowed to dictate fares and allow substantial discounts to their customers.

Picture: Darshana Jain

Representational image. Picture: Darshana Jain

“We cannot change our fares because it is a government-regularised meter. When customers flock to Ola or Uber because of the low fares, it is unfair to us,” Rameshwar added.

Shashank Rao, Sharad Rao’s son, who has taken over the leadership of the Mumbai Autorickshaw-Taximen's Union elaborated on their demands. “We want draft rules for everyone. Once those are in place, having a regularised fare meter is natural,” he said.

The cab drivers of Mumbai proudly display their badge whenever asked to. The Ola and Uber drivers do not have these badges. They are considered ‘outsiders’ by the kaali-peeli driving lot.

This is their second demand. “Every cab driver in Mumbai must have the badge which distinguishes him as a government-authorised driver,” Rao added.

However, on being asked if their customer count has gone down since Uber and Ola started running their cabs in Mumbai, Rao was quick to respond in the negative. “They don’t affect us. Our customers have hardly gone down,” he said.

Picture: Darshana Jain

Representational image. Picture: Darshana Jain

The cab drivers surprisingly had a different opinion and went on to launch a verbal attack on the leaders of their union.

During their strike in Novermber 2015, The Indian Express quoted KK Tiwari, Mumbai President of Swabhiman Union as saying that “since the government is doing nothing, we will take action.”

“Nothing happened after the strike. There was no outcome to our protest. We were asked to call it off abruptly,” said one of the drivers. "We protested again in January but, even then nothing happened."

They suspect that the taxi aggregators are conspiring with their leaders. Some of them alleged that their leaders are themselves running their cabs under Ola. Moreover, after their last protest, the leaders were abundantly bribed.

Rao, however, dismissed these claims and expressed ignorance on the subject.

Rameshwar also said that Meru and Easy cabs had filed a case against the cheap rates of service offered by the taxi aggregators. Other drivers that FirstPost spoke to corroborated his claim and said that government officials are expected to meet on Tuesday and discuss the issue.

Rao also confirmed this but, refused to comment. “Meru and Easy Cabs filed a complaint, not us. How would I know?” he said.

Picture: Darshana Jain

Cabs all over the city stop their services to protest against Ola and Uber. Picture: Darshana Jain

While the tussle continues in Mumbai, the Karnataka government has pulled in the reins on taxi aggregators. It has asked them to get a licence from the government if they want to ply in the state.

Apart from this, every taxi is required to have a digital fare meter and the fare should not be higher than the one fixed by the government. As of 30 May, not all taxi aggregators had complied with Karnataka government’s new orders.

The Karnataka transport department had filed 300 cases against Ola and Uber and confiscated 1,000 taxis in the last two months. Ola and Uber drivers had protested at what they termed as ‘harassment’ by transport authorities.

It remains to be seen if the matter will be resolved amicably in Mumbai or the protesting cycle will turn with Ola and Uber staging a protest next.

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Updated Date: Jun 21, 2016 11:30:29 IST