Rain drains the taxi rides

Rain drains the taxi rides

Rain drains the taxi rides

Marooned on a raised platform near Bengaluru’s Commercial Street last week, the family of four was desperate for a quick getaway. As they stood trapped in the lashing rain, autorickshaws stopped but wouldn’t budge without getting the right price, right away. No taxi would show up on the famed mobile apps.

No BMTC bus was in sight either. The Metro rail on MG Road was the only option. Eventually, the family engaged a rickshaw for an incredible price to reach the Metro station, less than a kilometre away.

In that gruelling one hour, the four had seen the city’s multiple commute systems spectacularly collapse in tandem.

Last-mile connectivity options, a challenge even in normal weather, lay thoroughly exposed. It was another grim reminder of a transport network that is just not prepared for any eventuality. If an hour-long shower could throw the system in the city so completely ajar, how will it respond to a far bigger contingency? Is there a plan at all?

Risky rain rides
By demanding a hefty price, the autorickshaw drivers often use ‘risky rain rides’ as the perfect excuse to make some fast buck.

If the hassled commuters thought Uber and Ola would always be on rescue mission, they would be mistaken. The app-based taxi aggregators simply vanish from their mobile screens at the first drop of rain.

Why do taxis, the most preferred commute options for many Bengalureans of late, switch off? Preferring anonymity, an OlaCabs official contends that the company has given drivers the right to decide when to drive and when not to drive. “We have to give them that freedom. Only a small percentage of drivers switch off completely during rains” says the official.

Simply put, the argument is this: There is no dip in supply. When it rains, demand for taxis spikes. Even those who generally tend to walk up to a bus stop and take public transport would prefer a safer taxi ride. Besides, taxis are a lot cheaper than autos that charge double or even triple the normal rates during rain.

Cab demand spikes
When demand spikes, increasing car-sharing options offered by both Ola and Uber could be an answer, indicates Muralidhar Rao from Praja-RAAG, a thinktank on urban mobility issues.  But a more fundamental shift in policy would be to allow app-based private bus/minibus operators such as ZipGo.

BMTC, he says, should focus on improving its regular services that would benefit those stranded in rain. This can happen if the transport corporation allows private players using technology and the aggregator model to operate on the IT corridors. ZipGo, for instance, could have been allowed to pick up those headed to the IT hubs.

But these policy changes will not happen in a hurry. Until then, should commuters be at the mercy of fleecing autorickshaw drivers and selective cab drivers? Hassled commuters could lodge complaints under the Karnataka On-demand Transportation Technology Rules 2016 or the Motor Vehicles Act 1989 against errant drivers.

Poor drainage issue
Not everyone sees this as a problem that a mobility plan should address. Sathya Sankaran from Citizens for Sustainability (CiFoS) contends that the issue is about the city's poor drainage system. “Until you fix that, any mobility plan will be only a bandaid solution. You need a complete overhaul of the drainage, you need to have adequate tow trucks to clear roads of broken branches,” he explains.

Essentially, it all boils down to how stormwater is managed, how flooding is minimised and controlled. “Cab drivers are obviously going to be afraid of getting stuck due to the obstructions. There is no guarantee of reaching anywhere safely when the roads are waterlogged.”

But, can this be an excuse for drivers to overcharge every time it rains? Long-suffering commuters are not convinced. They complain they are fleeced for even short distance rides by autorickshaws who exploit their miseries. They would then rather prefer taking out their private, personal vehicles, a deeply problematic solution in itself.