Drivers of taxi aggregators Uber and Ola struck work across several Indian cities, demanding higher fares in the midst of rapidly rising fuel prices that have significantly cut into their incomes. The strikes, primarily taking place in Delhi and Mumbai, began on October 22, and continued into its fifth day on Friday.
In addition to the two major cities, drivers working with the aggregators, as well as members of the Telangana Four Wheelers Drivers Association, went on strike on Thursday in the city of Hyderabad. They were demanding that the state government’s intervene in regulating fares charged by cab aggregator companies and ensure the safety of drivers. The union said that the companies were underpaying the drivers.
Drivers said that in the last year, fuel prices had increased by 20% while the cab fares had stayed the same, making it harder for them to earn a decent living, despite working longer hours. Drivers also asked for a bigger share of income and incentives from the cab companies. They also demanded that the companies put in place safety measures to ensure their protection during rides.
As a result of these strikes, cab fares surged to almost twice the normal amounts. On Thursday, close to 95% of cabs were off the roads and waiting times increased drastically.
“The companies don’t understand the issues drivers face…they have reduced fares when they should be charging a higher rate,” said Sunil Borkar, secretary of the Mumbai taxi drivers’ union, Maharashtra Rajya Rashtriya Kamgar Sangh. He added that many drivers wanted an indefinite strike until their demands for higher fares were met.
The union also threatened a hunger strike, as well as a march to the government headquarters.
In the last one year, Ola and Uber ride costs went up nationally by 10-15%. However, the incentives for drivers went down by 30% during the same time. These trends, along with the rising fuel prices and the falling value of the Indian rupee, have been a blow to the income of drivers.
This is not the first such strike by Uber and Ola drivers. In March, thousands of Independent drivers took to the streets against the companies’’ policies. Other taxi unions, like the Mumbai Taximen’s union, also participated in that strike. Their demands included a guaranteed business of 125,000 rupees per month per driver, reinstatement of blacklisted drivers, and removal of company-owned cars. The strike later spread to other cities such as New Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune.
Kamal Jeet Gill, president of the Sarvodaya Driver’s Association of Delhi, said most of the 450,000 drivers in the city took part in the strike, demanding higher base fares and better security measures. According to him, more than 19 drivers had been murdered in the Delhi alone since March during the course of their work. He also pointed out that the base fare for Ola and Uber drivers was just 6 rupees per kilometer, which is even lower than the base fare for auto-rickshaws (three-wheelers), which is 10 rupees per kilometer.
He added that drivers across the country would continue to strike until they got a fair deal from the cab aggregator companies. He said that for this to happen, the central and State governments had to intervene. He however seemed skeptical of the possibility since many governments shared a close relationship with the cab companies.