Rain-time commute is every Bengalurean's nightmare

Rain-time commute is every taxi-hooked Bengalurean's worst nightmare

This is a problem spiralling out of control because commuters find every mobility option vanish in a downpour

Representative image. Credit: DH

Caught in an excruciatingly chaotic rush-hour commute, you might wonder if anything can get worse. But that question would linger only until you experience the full force of rain-time commute, the frustrating wait for a cab, manned by drivers on a bizarre trip-cancelling frenzy.

For thousands of Bengalureans, stranded in their homes, offices, on the road, this is a daily struggle. Forced to negotiate roads that look straight out of a lunar landscape, drivers find excuses aplenty to switch off. So, can technology intervene to tweak the apps that help riders find drivers in customised routes, reducing rain-time risks?

Vanishing options

This is a problem spiralling out of control because commuters find every mobility option vanish in a downpour. With drivers on safety-first mode, the ubiquitous autorickshaws disappear too. So do the bike taxis. Leaky bus stops are no great alternative either.

BMTC buses mandated to operate on dedicated routes might ply nevertheless. But Shaheen Shasa from the Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike flags another problem: “Rain or no rain, buses run. But if your route doesn’t have enough frequency, it can get tough.” The city with 1.5 crore people operates only about 6,300 buses, and that only means more waiting crowds.

Rains dramatically reduce whatever is left of public transport commute comfort. “Travelling by bus, the comfort factor drops significantly. The overall seating capacity comes down due to water leakage from the roof. The uneven, leaky bus stops don’t help either,” notes Shaheen.

Surging demand

When it rains, switching from personal vehicles to the safe confines of cabs makes sense for many commuters. The demand surges. But cab aggregators Ola and Uber are not able to leverage this since many drivers log out of the platform. Heavy traffic congestion, flooded roads and enhanced risks are cited as reasons.

Mobility experts say the cab and autorickshaw drivers can afford to switch off because they are target earners. Cab drivers become eligible for a fixed daily incentive amount once they complete a specified number of daily trips.

Pool options

One option suggested for commuters in this hopeless scenario is to turn to carpool and bike pool portals. Typically, these websites match riders based on the same route.

All riders heading in the same direction are shown up. The cost is then worked out on the basis of the shared route and fuel charges.

But what happens when it rains? Pool platforms such as Quickride offers riders a chat option. They could communicate with the rider giver, decide on a meeting place and time of arrival. Most Ola / Uber commuters often find the chat option useless when the driver cancels a ride and switches off.

Flood risks

Drivers, however, have a different take on the rain-triggered cancellations. “In recent years, due to white topping, smart city work and other projects, flooding on roads have increased. Take, for instance, my experience. I have been driving for over 30 years, but have never seen the kind of waterlogging that trapped dozens of cabs on H Siddhaiah Road and K H Road this time,” points out Radhakrishna Holla, President, Karnataka State Travel Operators Association.

Falling numbers

Safety is thus a big concern for drivers. “Besides, the number of cabs has reduced by nearly 50% due to the pandemic. Many drivers have sold their vehicles and gone to their villages. The State and Central governments did not support them barring a few tax exemptions,” Holla explains.

Lack of transparency is what leaves most cab commuters at their wit’s end. Cancellations happen even when the weather is perfectly fine. But when it rains, the frustration only gets worse.

As Shaleel K, a daily cab rider complains, “I have to deal with at least three cancellations before I get a driver willing to come to my pick-up spot. The driver calls, and if the destination is not conducive to him, the trip is cancelled and he becomes untraceable.”

It is learnt that Ola is preparing to address this issue with a new feature. The driver will soon be able to see the drop location, thus negating the need to call the customer.

Sources say this feature has already been rolled out for a few select drivers and will be available all over the next fortnight.

Watch the latest DH Videos here:

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox