A significant number of cab drivers operating under ride-hailing giants Ola and Uber in Tamil Nadu have commenced a two-day strike starting October 16. Their objective is to raise concerns about various critical issues and voice their demands for necessary actions. Organized by the All India Road Transport Workers Federation and the Tamil Nadu Urimai Kural Driver Trade Union, this strike has made a notable impact on app-based cab services, affecting the daily lives of the public.
The drivers have presented a set of demands covering various critical areas and are seeking government intervention to address these challenges effectively.
The Key Demands
- Ban on Rapido Bike-Taxi Services: One of the primary demands of the striking cab drivers is the ban on bike taxi services, with specific reference to Rapido. They argue that these bike taxis are eating into their earnings and affecting their livelihoods.
- Regulation of App-Based Cab Aggregators: The cab drivers are urging the government to step in and regulate the operations of app-based cab aggregators, including Ola, Uber, Porter, and Red Taxi. They believe regulation is necessary to establish a fair playing field for all parties involved.
- Resolution of Commission Disputes: A longstanding issue has been the dispute over commission rates between the drivers and the cab aggregators. Drivers often argue that these rates are high, leaving them with a relatively small portion of their earnings after covering expenses. To address this problem and establish a more equitable commission structure, drivers are urging government intervention. This could involve regulatory measures or negotiations that result in fairer commission rates, ensuring that drivers can earn a reasonable income while providing their services through these ride-hailing platforms.
- Toll Booths Operating Beyond Contracts: Another significant concern is the operation of toll booths that continue to operate beyond their designated contract periods. Toll booths are a common feature on highways and roads, and their operation is typically governed by specific contracts that define the terms, duration, and responsibilities of the toll operators. However, the issue arises when these toll booths continue to function after their contracts have expired, effectively collecting tolls without a valid agreement in place. Therefore, the cab drivers on strike are now advocating for the removal of such booths to ease the financial burden on them.
- Action Against Renting Private Vehicles: Cab drivers, especially those affiliated with ride-hailing services, have voiced concerns about using privately owned vehicles for commercial ride-hailing purposes. Instead of using dedicated commercial vehicles, some individuals may opt to rent out their private cars to provide ride-hailing services. This practice raises questions of fairness and competition within the industry. Therefore, to maintain a level playing field, the drivers have called for government measures against those renting private vehicles for commercial purposes.
Impact on Commuters
The strike has not only left cab drivers in a challenging situation but has also caused significant inconveniences for the daily commuters.
Sathish Sugumaran, another commuter, revealed how the infrequent public transportation facilities in his area during peak hours forced him to rely on app-based aggregators for his daily work commute. However, due to the strike, he faced a nearly 40-minute wait to book a taxi, causing frustration.
Aruna, a homemaker, voiced her concerns about the strike, particularly during the Navratri festival season when the demand for cabs and auto-rickshaws is already high. She, like many others, is uncertain about managing her travel in time.
Sathish Sugumaran, another commuter who stays at Kandigai in southern Chennai, shared his experience of waiting nearly 40 minutes for a ride during peak hours due to this ongoing strike.
P. Sridhar, a resident of Madipakkam, had a similar experience when trying to arrange a comfortable ride for his father’s hospital appointment in Alwarpet. After nearly an hour of unsuccessful attempts to book a ride on the app, he reluctantly accepted a local auto ride at a higher fare.
The Drivers’ Perspective
Although the strike has impacted daily commuters, the heart of the issue lies in the livelihoods of cab drivers.
A cab driver named Dilshan took a break from using the app for the next two days. Dilshan is straightforward about the exploitation they face from cab aggregators and their unwillingness to address commission concerns. He also questions why bike taxis are still operational in Tamil Nadu while neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have banned them.
In June, Transport Minister S. S. Sivasankar stated that the Tamil Nadu government had not yet officially acknowledged the operation of bike taxis, which have been running extensively in Chennai and Coimbatore. He emphasized that only vehicles bearing yellow-black number plates were permitted to operate as taxis under the existing regulations.
Zahir Hussain, the state secretary of the Tamil Nadu Urimai Kural Driver Trade Union, emphasized the magnitude of the movement with support from over 10 unions and an estimated 1.20 lakh workers participating. On Tuesday, Oct 17, they will lay siege to the transport department offices in several key cities, including Madurai, Tiruchirapalli, Coimbatore, etc.
Therefore, the striking drivers are calling on the government to heed their demands and take appropriate measures to address the issues they’ve raised.
M. Bhoopathy, the General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Call Taxi Workers’ Union, has pointed out that the guidelines introduced by the central government in 2020 for motor vehicle aggregators have not been put into practice in the state. The absence of these regulations has consequences for both drivers and passengers. Therefore, implementing these rules would establish equitable fares for passengers and ensure better compensation for drivers, addressing the concerns of both parties.
In a Nutshell
The ongoing strike has brought the issues faced by cab drivers and the inconvenience caused to commuters into the spotlight. The demands presented by the striking drivers reflect the challenges they encounter daily. This strike serves as a reminder of the critical role these app-based cab services play in the lives of countless individuals. It raises the question: How can the government and ride-hailing companies collaborate to ensure fair conditions for both drivers and passengers while maintaining the convenience and accessibility of these services?