Humbled by Ola and Uber, auto drivers hit rock bottom

Cab aggregators take away customers, note ban makes it worse

Humbled by Ola and Uber, auto drivers hit rock bottom

Autorickshaw drivers, once notorious for rejecting prospective customers whose destinations were far from their preferences, have turned humble after app-based taxi services took away the high profile customers. Post demonetisation, some have even hit rock bottom.

Rudramurthy, general secretary of CITU-affiliated Autorickshaw Drivers’ Union (ARDU), said being part of the unorganised sector, auto drivers were left to fend for themselves when there was any crisis.

“Not all auto drivers are rude and arrogant. They may be frustrated. There is no ESI and PF coverage for us. So, when app-based taxis took away our opportunities to earn more, we were reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence. After demonetisation, we are at our wits’ end,” he said.

He said drivers who earned between Rs 1,200 and 1,500 per day now go home with Rs 600 to Rs 800. “There are bad days when many wait for 10 hours to earn Rs 100. There is a crisis in the making,” he said.

The Transport department has put the number of autorickshaws with permits at 1.25 lakh in Bengaluru. Officials said the number may go up to 1.5 lakh if the rickshaws without permits are included.

At the pre-paid auto stand of Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna city railway station, Sanne Gowda waas not worried though his rickshaw was at the end of a long queue.
“All our protests failed. No use blaming the app-based taxi companies. We need to first introspect. When Ola Auto was introduced, we stood in queues to enrol with them. Now, we don’t even have the mobile phones they gave,” he said.

Kumar’s was the only rickshaw in the vicinity on Shantinagar Double Road, but he had no business.

“I don’t demand extra money like I used to do. I thank my stars when I get a customer riding 10 km. After waiting for two to three hours, I usually get people who get down even before the meter reads Rs 50,” he said.

Ahmed Samar, an auto driver at Malleswaram railway station, said there was a time when he rarely waited for the next hire.

“First, earnings came down from Rs 1,200 to Rs 700. After demonetisation, it got worse. People handed out Rs 2,000 note for rides worth Rs 25 or Rs 30. Sometimes, I fought with them, but ended up leaving without taking any money,” he said.

Taking out a bunch of currency notes from his faded shirt pocket, Samar counted Rs 170. “It's 9.30 at night. I have to wait another hour for the next train to arrive. If I’m lucky, I will get a customer,” Samar said.

About 30% of the auto drivers take loans to buy their vehicles which cost between Rs 1.6 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh. Their loan repayment capacity has decreased over the last three years. “I am ready to go to any corner of the city. I will wait for my next hire till midnight. How else can I repay Rs 5,400 every month to clear my loan?” Iqbal, another driver, asked.

Ola claims to have more than 4.7 lakh vehicles, including cabs, autorickshaws and regular black-and-yellow cabs in India. Uber puts the number at 3.5 lakh minus autorickshaws.

Most of the vehicles are concentrated in mega cities. Together, their fleet in Bengaluru is estimated at 40,000.

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