Jobs aplenty, but drivers few
Bangalore's cab industry is hoping for migration to meet the rising demand for drivers
“Locals are no longer preferring to be drivers as they did even five years ago. And because employment opportunities have improved in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, which at one time had a good presence of people from these two states, is seeing fewer of them. Perhaps Bangalore’s cab sector would need drivers from Odisha, Assam and Manipur just like the malls, ATMs and offices have these people as security guards and helpers. Where else do we look for drivers,” asks Radhakrishna Holla, General Secretary of the Bangalore Tourist Taxi Owners Association.
“We’re facing a shortage of drivers and the problem is likely to intensify in the next two years, if we don’t get more drivers. It’s very sad locals are not grabbing a livelihood opportunity,” Holla told Deccan Herald. Bangalore has for long been attracting drivers from places like Ramanagara, Magadi, Doddaballapur, Hoskote and Kanakapura apart from a few north Karnataka areas and south Karnataka areas close to Mangalore. Most of Bangalore’s drivers are from rural areas in Karnataka aspiring for a life in the metropolis. Why is the local driver population dipping? In the last two years, rural youth have begun to feel there is heavy uncertainty in the cab sector in terms of returns. There has been a tendency among companies to pay cabs two, four or even six months late. Investing on a vehicle and then its maintenance out of a loan creates high financial pressure among the youth. They don’t want to risk unsteady routines and delayed payments.
But the central reason why locals are not coming into the cab sector is the government’s insistence that the drivers be educated till at least eight standard. Most rural youth, especially mechanics and cleaners from rural areas who become drivers, are not educated till eighth standard. They may have studied only upto fifth, sixth or seventh and sometimes just first or second. Without eighth standard qualification, the government is unwilling to give a driver’s badge, which is an official recognition that the person is eligible to be a driver. Association members, however, say that qualification is not as important as road judgement. “How a driver grasps traffic movement is not dependent on what one has studied. But government is not amenable to this argument. We have requested the government to set aside the educational requirement at least for two years to overcome shortage of drivers. Officials are considering the request,” an association member said.
Southern states doing well
Adding to the problem is a better life in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. “The two southern governments have taken measures to enhance employment prospects within the states and also offer basic food at very low rates bringing down the cost of living. So Tamil Nadu and Kerala drivers are finding their own states more economically and employment -friendly. They are not coming to Bangalore in large numbers as before,” says Holla. Delhi and Mumbai don’t have shortage of drivers because the cities attract people from Bihar, UP, Assam, Haryana, Manipur and Gujarat. This sort of migration is being expected for Bangalore from the northern states as the southern states are doing well.
Experienced drivers quitting
There is yet another phenomenon happening on a smaller scale. Experienced drivers are quitting regular driving jobs and are approaching NRIs and foreigners to work for them. “The experienced drivers are familiar with the entertainment, restaurant, official and mall scene and know what exactly the guests need and where they go. They pass interviews conducted by these high net worth people and once hired are paid very well. Some other experienced drivers become bus drivers, especially Volvo drivers, of both BMTC and private buses. There is a shortage of bus drivers too. So experienced cab drivers are moving to buses,” say association members.
The shortage is being felt in very direct ways. “Drivers are not available when families book cabs or when families look to hire drivers. There may also not be drivers of a particular category of vehicle. Getting drivers now involves waiting,” says G Madhusudhan of a private cab agency.
In all, Bangalore has 1.5 lakh cab drivers, most of whom are from rural areas. They work an average 13 to 14 hours a day. Though it is hard work, many opt to be cab drivers because they may not have other job options. A driver of a private cab agency said he had no other job on offer and ended up driving cabs. “I used to live in Ramanagaram, I now have come to Bangalore and drive a cab for company. I live on the outskirts of the city.”
The stress levels in the job are high because he has to drive at any time given time. Some times it could be day time and at other times dead of the night. “We lose sleep on several trips. Then we have to do a lot of waiting in the car when the passengers are gone. We dont have any shelter. Apart from a hotel where we manage to eat and drink something, we have nowhere to rest.” Then there is the harassment faced from police, traffic police and the public who always complain that drivers are unruly.
“Police people go on asking for small cuts. We are not allowed to park in some places. We have to search for parking areas. The facilities offered by the company are not good. There is no insurance or health coverage or any place to rest and we have to work on average 13 to 14 hours. We are also paid by the distance we cover and pressure is on us to cover more distance if we need to make more money. Since there I don’t have an alternative job, I have become a cab driver.”
Another driver who works night shifts transporting employees from IT and BPO companies home and to office says they have tight deadlines to meet. People complain that we drive fast. But most companies have a check-in time for the vehicles because the employees have to log-in within a certain time. So we are compelled to drive fast to reach offices within the stipulated time. Why blame us?
The companies are the ones at fault. They have to make check-in timings more flexible. And then after we go all over the city and reach the offices, there is no place to rest, there is no offer of a cup of tea even. When we have to go back, we have to face complaints from the cab company owners. And sometimes we even have to face delayed payments, which means we may not get salary on time. But as there is no other job available, I have taken to cab driving. On average, drivers in the city earn around Rs 13,000-14,000 per month, some get higher and some get lower salaries. With this salary, we have to live on the outskirts, because we won’t get houses for rent at Rs 2,000 per month. What else can we afford?”
The general secretary of the taxi association has a final word of caution. “If this shortfall of drivers continues and if the educational qualification of eighth standard is made mandatory, the severity of the shortage will go up in as close as one to two years. The industry won’t be able to offer quality service. We want more drivers to come to Bangalore. So we would request the government and companies to be flexible on terms and conditions for the cab sector.”