By P V Durga:
Yesterday, a strike organized by a taxi union called Swabhiman in Mumbai saw the roads sans taxis or auto- rickshaws until 5 PM. This strike was targeted against private aggregators such as Ola, Uber, and others. Additionally, on June 17th, the largest auto union led by Shashank Rao will go on a strike.
The taxi drivers seem to be threatened by the services of cabs that are dependent on mobile applications. Because of the private aggregators, it was said that the taxi drivers do not get long- distance customers. Swabhiman leader KK Tiwari said that according to an RTI application, many of the private operators did not have “relevant permissions”. He also added that they had sent a petition to the state government along with a list of demands last week, but got no response, and thus went ahead with the strike. A Maharashtra Transport Act has been proposed, which would make it mandatory for the private aggregators to register with the state transport department.
Commuters seem to be caught in this clash, which comes right in the beginning of the week, coupled with the monsoon and the re-opening of schools in Mumbai. This strike and its consequences might impede the choice of people who prefer private cabs. There is no denying that the private cabs enjoy a good amount of popularity because a good number of people feel that they are much better, in terms of efficiency and service. But, the upliftment of one community does not necessarily have to take place at the cost of the other, and therefore, it is understandable that taxi drivers are threatened by the private cabs, because it is a question of livelihood. Shibi Shankarram, who visits Mumbai often and uses the public taxis extensively during his visit, mentioned that autos are not allowed to ply on roads beyond the area where he stays during his visit. This is bound to deny them long- distance commuters. He prefers the public taxis because they are cheaper, and provide “basic comforts” with lesser money. It also adds to the “experience” of the city. The “kaala peelas” indeed are an integral part of Mumbai’s roads.
What is interesting is that the largest union of Mumbai taxi drivers led by AL Quadros has not supported the strike. In fact, it has appealed to the taxi and auto drivers to carry on with their job “fearlessly”. This strike might just be an opportunity to balance out the public-private tiff, but is risky if dragged for too long, for both the commuters and the taxi driver community. Stalling services in order to secure the attention of authorities is going to do no good unless there is some end in sight. After all, if one’s livelihood depends on driving others to their place of livelihood, a prolonged strike is going to have an adverse effect on both parties.