Hi there. I am Tanveer Pasha. I am a 33-year-old cab driver-cum-owner in Bengaluru, and the President of the OTU (Ola TaxiForSure Uber) Owners and Drivers Association. I am one of those drivers who comes to your doorstep every time you book an Ola or Uber.
You have probably wondered why thousands like me have been on a strike this week. I will explain this to you. After all, we meet every day.
Consider my case, for example. I earn around Rs 25,000 in a month from the cab I own. Around Rs. 10,900 out of that goes towards paying the EMI of the car. I have only around Rs. 14,000 to take care of my family and to bear the car’s maintenance expense.
This sometimes forces me to take credit. This too I am forced to take from private moneylenders these days, because I don’t fulfill bank’s loan criteria anymore. I am trying to look for alternate businesses, but haven’t been successful so far.
In 2014, I was driving cabs on my own contracts. But, by then, Ola and Uber had also arrived. In 2015, I was forced to leave my private contracts and join these companies because they could pay more than the contracts. I won’t say anything wrong. It was very good in the beginning. Until 2016, in fact, between and me, I was earning about Rs. 1.5-2 lakh per month.
It was in April, 2016 that the first protest happened, but this wasn’t against the companies. It was against the transport department seizing our vehicles. Ola and Uber hadn’t taken the aggregator license, but our vehicles – which aren’t owned by these companies – were being seized.
Anyhow, I had helped drivers before because they said, “You have knowledge. You know how to speak better. You should help us.” So I joined the protest. There the idea of the union took root, and we formed the association.
Because we had now associated, we were able to strike for 12-13 days last year over the slash in incentives. Unfortunately, the companies did little except trying to divide us. They would send messages saying that they will give a 500-rupee-incentive per ride if a driver logged in immediately. That incentive ended after a couple of rides.
Becoming a union leader really cost me. Personally, I have to battle cases. Uber filed three cases – one against me, one against my association, and one against the association president – which are all practically against me. They said Tanveer Pasha has caused losses for our company and many commuters are facing problems because of this person. But my only intention was to get justice for our drivers.
Since the strike last year, some more changes have happened. Earlier, the company would bear the cost of discounts and offers. Now we do. The commission the companies used to take has risen to 25 percent. This was 5 percent in the beginning. So, now, I have to do twenty trips to earn the Rs. 5,000 that I got from ten trips two and a half years earlier.
The impact of this today is that around 20 percent vehicles are not on road because the owners sold their vehicles and went to back to their native states. And another share of vehicles have been seized by banks because of non-payment of their EMIs.
That is why I am supporting the drivers on strike. We cannot do much beyond that. The companies don’t call us for negotiations until the government gets involved. It’s not their baap ka paisa after all that they will cry over it. It’s the money of their investors. Ola has already explained the inconvenience caused to you as being created by “factors beyond its control”. I know the value of baap ka paisa, because that’s how I became a driver.
My family was into farming and they were struggling around 2001. My father was helpless after the division of the ancestral property. I wanted my brother – who was in plus two back then – to continue studying. I also had two sisters. So I decided to work.
I had just finished my secondary school examination. I had no option but ask my father for money, who borrowed about Rs. 2 lakh rupees, and I took a plunge in the goods transport business.
It wasn’t easy though, because I was new and barely knew how to drive. It is when a driver I was paying refused to drive that I learnt how to. I thought, ‘I am jumping in the sea. I will try to swim. If possible, definitely I will reach my destiny.’ I had to pay around Rs. 6 lakh to people from who I had borrowed money. I would drive for two-three years, barely getting any sleep, to pay off that debt.
In their mutual competition, both Ola and Uber seem to have forgotten about this struggle of a driver. They increased the number of cabs on the road beyond the demand. Now there are many drivers who had a farming background and some who completed their engineering. They took credit and bought vehicles, because these companies gave them the assurance that they will earn over a lakh a month. Now they are not earning even 15,000 bucks. Obviously, they feel very bad.
I believe my community is a very hard-working community. The soldiers and farmers we respect as a country heavily depend on drivers. But we neither get welfare benefits nor respect.
The only reason we haven’t been able to protest in Bangalore is because we’ll lose very valuable money even if I call a protest for two days. The government also doesn’t support us. But with you, our customer, along us, we can get justice, and we can also live with dignity.
– As told to Abhishek Jha