After protests carried out by Ola and Uber drivers against the aggregators, the Karnataka Government had set up a committee which is expected to come out with new fares next month. The government is planning to fix a minimum fare for taxis. While the government says this is in interest of the drivers, is this what the drivers want? MediaNama spoke to Tanveer Pasha, who is the President of Ola, Taxiforsure and Uber drivers and Owners Association, on what are their demands. Interestingly, this association, which has 55,000 to 60,000 drivers, wants a flat rate that will be applicable throughout the day.

Edited excerpts from the interview with Pasha

Pasha: The latest development that I heard is that the government is planning minimum and maximum fares. Earlier they had fixed (the) maximum fare for radio taxi Rs 19.50 for an AC vehicle and Rs 14.50 (for) non AC. So when it is already fixed, why are they again going with the minimum fares? We do not understand the reason for this. The last statement I heard was that a minimum rate of Rs 10 for non AC will be fixed, and (it would be) between Rs 11 to Rs 12 for AC. When a maximum price has been fixed, if there is again a minimum price fixed, it will be a very small difference. This will not make a big difference.

MediaNama: But the government says that the minimum prices will be fixed in the drivers interest, since Ola and Uber have rates as low as Rs 6 per km.

Pasha: They are making fools out of public as well as the drivers. One can calculate using any method they wish, the cost never comes to Rs 6. There are steep prices, riding charges, everything will be added. The drivers are not getting the proper fare, what the company gets from the customer. Also, a customer will always get a different bill amount for the same distance travelled. This is an illegal business, this never comes under the rule of aggregators or Motor Vehicle Act. They are just violating the rules.

MediaNama: What about the aggregators asking for an increase in maximum rate

Pasha: They are asking that the rate be increased to Rs 27. What the company’s plan is, to put some surge charges during peak hours. So, the company will put an advertisement with the same attraction that you will get an Uber at Rs 6. However, during rain and peak hours, during evening and morning, they will charge extra. In that the company will get some benefits, but the driver does not get any benefit out of this. Drivers never gets the benefit from surge pricing. At the same time the customers will be charged higher.

MediaNama: If the price is increased will the customers using the service reduce

Pasha: No this never affects the number of people using the app. Customers are now addicted to the service. At their fingertips, the taxi comes to a customers door step. For commutes that are fixed and taken everyday during the same time, customers want taxi’s only. They will use the service. They might feel a pinch but will use the service. Simply because, if they want to take an auto, they have to first come to the road, wait for autos. After stopping about 10 autos, one or two auto drivers will accept the trip. Also, they can not feel the (experience) luxury journey in an auto. There are other issues with that as well: the driver will ask more than meter price. Everybody (customers) will think about taxis only. See, Radio Taxis and other taxis have a fixed price. They will not change the prices during peak time, or have seasonal prices. All day, 24/7 the prices will be the same. If you take Mega, Meru,  KSTDC, City Taxi and Taxi Always, all of them have a fixed rate. My question is why is the government leaving only these two companies (Ola and Uber) to go with their own rules and regulations.

MediaNama: What do you want the government to do?

Pasha: First, come out with a flat prices. No minimum, no maximum price. See, flat as in the maximum price of Rs 19.50 that has already been fixed. You people (companies) have created the app, it is for benefits, not for breaking rules and regulations. Keep Rs 19.50 as the flat price, and a minimum of say Rs 6 or Rs 10 for 4 kilometers. Just like it is done for autos and other cabs. Do not put any surge prices. If you put surge prices it affects the customer.

Second is do not give any targets to the driver. Why are you (companies) forcing us to do duty 24/7? How is it possible? Why will you (companies) give the target to complete 10 rides or to complete 20 rides etc? If I would like to go for one trip, I will finish my trip and come back home. If I want to earn more, definitely, I will go for more number of trips. I will keep myself logged in and finish my job. So, basically, no one should force us to finish 10 trips or 20 trips.

Third, is the commission prices. They are providing the technology and nothing else. They are not giving any benefits or life security or anything else. It is just that they are providing the services. They are just like a broker, connecting link between the customers and drivers. They have to take minimum commission prices. Now, they are charging 30 per cent. If I am working for Rs 100 than I need to pay Rs 30 to the company.

MediaNama: According to you, how much should the commission be ?

Pasha: See, when they (companies) entered to Bangalore, it was 5 percent to 10 percent, and now it has increased to 30%. That is not good. They have to reduce the commission prices, and give flat rates 24/7.

MediaNama: What about the incentives issue..

Pasha: We do not want any targets. If I am given targets, you (companies) will give incentives. So running behind incentives, we will die one day. So no need for incentives. Why would you want to give incentives? Give a flat price that is enough for us. If you give a 20 trips target, it’s like saying “reach Mount Everest in a day” which is not possible.

MediaNama: How many Ola and Uber drivers are in debt?

Pasha: Almost 70-75 percent of drivers. We have car loans, (and) above that we borrowed money initially to enter Ola, and then the strikes. All of us have debt. At least 11 to 12 people in our organisation have left also.

MediaNama: How much do you need to earn?

Pasha: We need to earn a minimum of Rs 1500 to Rs 2000 each day. Because EMI per month is Rs 16,000, then there is car maintenance, family expenditure and car insurance which is 25,000 to 26,000 every year (every month Rs 2,500). If a cab driver is earning Rs 1500 per day it will be Rs 45,000 per month. After the house rent etc, the driver can save hardly Rs 5,000. If he earns Rs 2000 per day, he will definitely save Rs 15,000 to 20,000 per month.

MediaNama: What were the assurances given to you by cab aggregators?

Pasha: It is like this sauna belt ad (wherein), you can easily get slim in Rs 1500. If that was true then sauna (belt) company would be world popular. So, they give fake advertisements. Usually, in this industry, drivers are not well educated. We are really innocent people. Yes, they wanted money. So what they (the driver) did was, (said) ok they are giving assurance of Rs 1 lakh. They sold gold, or wife’s precious jewellery (and) also properties to buy the vehicle. They buy the vehicle and attach (to aggregators). After that, they (the company) will say, if you want to earn Rs 1 lakh, you please work properly, 24/7, and you need to be at the spot where we ask you to be always. How is that possible?  If they say, I should be in Whitefield (in Bangalore), I would be there. But I will get a pick up from there and go to Bannerghatta. After that what do I do? I should now get an immediate trip from Bannerghatta, so that I can earn.  After listening to the terms and conditions the driver is completed disappointed. He lives thinking, I came somewhere and got trapped. I am completely trapped now.

MediaNama: What about the news about you’ll starting your own app ?

Pasha: Yes, it is under process. The app is under development. The drivers did not have any investment (money) to start the company. We have taken support from HD Kumaraswamy, ex-Chief Minister (of Karnataka). He is giving it as a complimentary gift to the drivers. He is also trying to collect funds from people who want to contribute for us. So, it is nearly a Rs 60 crore project. He told us not to worry about the finances. He said he will give us a drivers-owned company that we can start and manage. He has promised to help us in future also. He wants us to have our own platform and provide good service through it. He told us not to go through Ola and Uber. He told us that always protesting outside the company does not make any sense, since there is no output. It is we (the drivers) who are in a loss. We are waiting for the launch of the new company. It would be very soon, mostly next month.