Updated: June 30, 2020 6:26:31 pm
The strike by Ola and Uber cab drivers fizzled out this week, but the points of contention and the issues that drove drivers across the NCR to forego a week’s earnings remain unresolved. These are also issues that drivers of app-based cabs have elsewhere in the country and the world — and the possibility of more rounds of agitations, causing recurring problems for commuters, remains.
What were the drivers protesting?
Essentially, a decrease in earnings. On January 1, drivers found their incentives, ranging from Rs 8,000 for eight hours of staying logged on to the platform to Rs 2,000 for a minimum of six trips, which used to be the chief lure for new drivers joining the cab revolution, rescinded.
Incentives had been dwindling for months, even as the aggregating companies claimed a 25% “commission”. As the number of cabs in almost every market saw a dramatic increase, drivers found themselves waiting for hours for a fare — a far cry from a year ago when the rides came thick and fast anywhere in the NCR. In many cases, earnings plummeted from as high as Rs 80,000 a month to Rs 40,000, and drivers began to default on their car loan EMIs. Uber’s alleged refusal to extend financial help to the family of a driver who died in an accident, upset drivers further.
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What were the drivers’ chief demands?
Drivers in the NCR have been demanding an increase in ride rates from the current Rs 6/km to anything between Rs 10/km to Rs 23/km.
Autorickshaws in Delhi charge Rs 8/km, yellow and black cabs Rs 16/km, and licensed radio cabs like Meru and Mega, Rs 23/km. Cabbies also want the recently introduced 25% commission, which includes a 5% service tax to the government, rolled back. They want the cab aggregators to put a five-year cap on new cabs signing up, and to pay drivers a “wait fee” of Rs 3/minute while they wait for a ride to flash on their devices.
So why was the strike called off?
Technically, the strike is still on, since the issues remain unresolved and neither Uber nor Ola have agreed to any of the demands. Members of the Sarvodaya Drivers’ Association of Delhi (SDAD) were detained at Majnu Ka Tilla by police as they attempted to march to Transport Minister Satyendar Jain’s residence on Tuesday. However, hundreds of drivers informally logged on to their devices on Sunday, a day after the High Court directed the representatives of the cab giants to discuss the drivers’ problems on the premises of the court. The loss of daily earnings, failure to pressure Ola and Uber, and the fact that the matter was in court, got the drivers back to driving.
But is the court case likely to solve the issue?
Uber filed a civil suit in Delhi High Court on February 13 suing two cab unions for Rs 2.5 crore, which was the amount the aggregator claimed it had lost as a result of the strike that began on February 10, counsel for the unions said. The court heard the plea on an urgent basis, and issued an interim order restraining the unions from “hampering, interfering or obstructing the legitimate business” of Uber and “stopping, blocking driver partners” of Uber. At the second hearing, the court directed authorised representatives of Ola and Uber to hear the grievances of the defendants on the High Court premises before the next hearing, slated for February 28. This has not happened yet, the unions’ counsel said.
Are only NCR cabbies protesting?
A strike of this magnitude is the first of its kind in the capital, but similar strikes have been reported from Hyderabad and Bengaluru over the past two months over the same issues. In Paris, Uber drivers protested the “disgraceful” and “degrading” low fares in late December last year.
Drivers and experts attribute the diminishing earnings to the cab giants’ business model anchored in artificially low prices. Experts and drivers say the cash burn to attract customers while giving drivers incentives over fare earnings was meant to last only until a customer base had been identified and tapped. There is no provision to regulate web-based cab aggregators like Ola and Uber in the Motor Vehicles Act — there is, as such, no policy to regulate fares or the number of cabs on the roads. The two companies are not forthcoming about their businesses, and the Delhi government says it has no definite estimate of the number of vehicles attached to Ola and Uber — their number is pegged at anywhere between 2 lakh and 4 lakh.
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