By Sneha Johari and Archana Sharma
“We haven’t been able to contact the cab companies. There are some officials sitting there who are not telling us anything,” states M Manjunath, President, Adarsha Auto and Taxi Drivers Union told MediaNama. Manjunath’s statement comes a day after we reported that the Regional Transport Office (RTO) in Bangalore seized over 60 vehicles belonging to both Ola and Uber for flouting rules in the city.
Dr Ramegowda, Bangalore’s Commissioner for Transport & Road Safety, told MediaNama in a phone conversation day before yesterday that online cab aggregator companies had not submitted the proper documents (to obtain a cab aggregator license). Meanwhile, cab drivers from Ola and Uber staged protests near the Bangalore airport from where their vehicles were seized. Translated and lightly edited excerpts from multiple phone conversations with Manjunath:
MediaNama: How did the protest start? Why are the cars are being seized?
Manjunath: The drivers informed us that they were stuck at the Bangalore airport toll plaza, so we went there. The RTO has been seizing cars since last week, saying that drivers don’t have city permits and are not following the rules and regulations; that we are driving under All India permit and need state/city permits. Ola and Uber aren’t following the state’s rules by charging extra money (surge pricing) during peak hours, and the RTO is taking away our cars. The companies have maybe applied for 100-200 permits but there are about 40,000 cars in Bangalore, and because the cars are running illegally that’s why they are being taken.
MediaNama: Have you talked to Ola or Uber? What are the companies saying?
Manjunath: No we haven’t been able to contact the companies. There are some officials sitting there who are not telling us anything. But we are talking to the RTO officials and asking them to talk to the big companies. We asked the RTO officials to fine the companies and not file cases against us. We are just poor drivers who have taken loans and other help to get into this business, and keep up the maintenance of the cars.
MediaNama: What support do you think the companies should provide?
Manjunath: The companies first need to talk to us and only then can we figure out what to do. The drivers work very hard and put even 16-18 hours shifts sometimes but the RTO seizing the cars is not good for us. It began when companies started asking customers to pay more, like 1.3X or 1.8X, during peak hours and ever since then we have been penalised and our cars have been taken away. The RTO is catching the drivers and filing cases against them. The drivers don’t know about the increase in fares when you make the booking and that’s why we, the Union are supporting them and asking RTO file such cases against the companies.
MediaNama: By what means are you helping the drivers? Do you need to go to the RTO to file a complaint to get the cars back?
Manjunath: Right now, we’re asking the drivers to file cases against the companies like Ola and Uber. Drivers are sitting unemployed and have bank and car loans on their cars. During peak times, fares of 1.6x and 1.8x come into effect, and the company says that because the user isn’t getting enough vehicles, this comes into effect. Once, I took a passenger from MG Road to Shivaji Nagar, which is 4 kms, for Rs 234. Actually, it comes to Rs 60. Users say that these companies are regularly advertising their rates as Rs 6 and 7 per km and that’s what attracts them to the service. Some services even charge a return trip. In case an auto driver asks for Rs 10 extra, there’s a police case against him. Cab services, on the other hand, charge Rs 80-100 extra, should cases be levelled against them as well?
MediaNama: Don’t you tell RTO officials that the car is yours and not that of Ola or Uber?
Manjunath: Right now, the drivers are attacking (not literally) the company, and the company is trying to compensate them. We’re telling the drivers to file a case against the companies, but these are poor people, how are they going to manage money to file cases?
MediaNama: But if drivers can’t drive, they won’t be able to earn either..
Manjunath: We think that the company should be fined for this, and the costs the driver makes every day should be added to that. Since the drivers haven’t had many problems, they haven’t tied up with any unions. But individual drivers whose cars have been picked up, are facing problems and they’re approaching us. This is why we’re supporting them.
MediaNama: Have you talked to other drivers who are not part of the union?
Manjunath: There must be around 40,000 car drivers in Bangalore, and we have over 1,500 driver members who work with Ola and Uber. They approached us, and hence we went to Human Rights (Commission) to lodge a complaint. Since this case has been launched by the RTO, we don’t even have any support from the government… 8 hours se government ko zyada profit de rahe hain isi liye driver ke liye kuch bhi support nahi hain. (We’re driving for more than 8 hours and the government benefits from it, but the drivers don’t get any government support.) If you don’t support the drivers, why trouble them? That’s why we went to the Human Rights (Commission).
MediaNama: When do you expect the RTO to return the cars?
Manjunath: Day before yesterday, we went to the Human Rights (Commission) to submit our letter. The Joint Commissioner (Kumar) came in and said that he’d need to look at the case since he was unfamiliar with it and went off.
MediaNama: Have you called the cab companies or gone to their offices?
Manjunath: No, the problem with that is that they offer a wrong statement saying that the union came here and (created a problem) they’ll dial the police for this. The RTO said that it wants to meet with the companies. Individual drivers think that the union will cause trouble and doesn’t approach either the union or the company. That’s why we don’t go to their offices, but lodge complaints where we think is necessary.
MediaNama: How will you get the car back without talking to the company?
Manjunath: That is up to the RTO officials. They have to file a case, call for a meeting, ask for the problems of the union as well as the companies, and help us get our cars back. There’s a city taxi permit in Bangalore. RTO says that drivers are using the All India permit to drive here, and that doesn’t follow the city’s permit and rules and regulations… There are regulations with respect to fares. So drivers have to follow the conditions set by the RTO and charge accordingly.
MediaNama: Do you think that the company will reimburse the drivers for the days that drivers weren’t able to drive in the city?
Manjunath: Our demand is that the company should reimburse for this. Meanwhile, the RTO has also filed a complaint. The drivers are struggling currently, the RTO needs to meet with them and the companies, and address even issues like surge pricing.. when cabs are available, why are you charging extra? When launched in Bangalore, these companies said that they were offering multiple services at Rs 6 and 8 per km. The cab is available through an app and through some technical stuff, they’re looting people. Drivers are promised incentives but drivers aren’t driving just 8-10 hours, they’re driving for 16 hours, and for incentives, they’re ruining their health. Drivers need to be comfortable to drive a car (and take passengers) and that’s a driver struggle.
MediaNama: What will be your next step?
Manjunath: 500 of us have given a memo to the RTO and we’ll show this to the government showing them what is happening… What companies are doing (looting people) is visible to everybody: the media, the users and the public at large. Hence, we need a law for drivers as well. There is already an example of auto drivers, who have permits, uniforms, license and city limits and meters. That’s a Bangalore vehicle. In Bangalore currently, cars from Kerala, Maharashtra, and other states are being driven in the city. Local drivers are bothered by this… If the company doesn’t function properly, how will drivers drive? What happens when there’s a problem with Uber in Delhi?… The driver has to follow the conditions of the company to offer the service.. The government said that the company had 7 days to follow the rules.. there should be rules with respect to how many years the driver has been in Bangalore, has to have a driving license.. Initially, the company used to provide a mobile free, now they don’t give one. They’re instead charging us to use the phone. They’re driving us nuts.