Thousands of commuters sweated it out for hours in traffic jams on the season’s hottest day as cabs disappeared from Delhi’s roads following a crackdown on diesel-run taxis.
The manic Monday snarls came two days after a Supreme Court order mandated all diesel-run taxis in the city must convert to CNG. The verdict was aimed at cleaning up Delhi’s air, considered the worst in the world.
The decision eliminated around 50,000 cabs from city roads and triggered protests by taxi unions over charges of harassment by police, who fined 140 vehicles and impounded 30.
The demonstrations held up traffic on arterial roads such as the Delhi-Jaipur National Highway for over two hours, adding to the woes of commuters as the mercury zoomed to 46.2 degree Celsius.
Tuesday is unlikely to provide any relief as police authorities said heavy fines and impounding of diesel vehicles will continue to enforce the top court order.
“Any diesel-run cab plying in the Delhi-NCR will continue to be challaned on Tuesday,” a senior transport department official said.
The traffic mess came barely two days after the end of the second phase of the odd-even scheme, where Delhiites struggled with inadequate transport options.
“Drivers were prosecuted on Monday, but drivers with all-India permits raised certain issues. Many unions blocked arterial roads such as NH-8, Dhaula Kuan and Ashram. We are waiting for further orders on implementation,” said Sandeep Goel, special commissioner of police (traffic).
Chaos started early in the morning when office-goers found no cabs on apps such as Ola and Uber – which have 13,000 diesel cabs between them.
The lucky few who got cabs were caught in mile-long jams and paid extra as Uber employed surge pricing, a controversial model where fares go up with rising demand. Autos too were seen few and far between.
“I had to reach the airport by 11 am but couldn’t find a cab from my mobile. I gave up after an hour and took a prepaid Kaali-Peeli taxi,” said Rinan Shah, who lives in south Delhi’s Saket.
Others weren’t as lucky. Social media was flooded with complaints from people who missed buses, trains, flights and job interviews. Employees complained office cabs didn’t turn up as the number of such taxis was slashed in half because of the SC order.
“My cab did not come to pick me and I got over an hour and a half late for work. The company has a tie-up with a Gurgaon-based cab operator and he did not have enough CNG cars to provide us transport,” said Vandana Singh, a commuter.
Tourist and visitors coming to the Capital also had a harrowing time. Few cabs were available outside the New Delhi Railway Station and the airport following an early morning police raid, where several challans were issued to diesel cabs waiting to pick up passengers.
As the mercury soared, the line of cars waiting at intersections grew lengthier.
Snarls continued through the day as the Delhi Taxi Tourist Transporters Association (DTTTA) blocked the crucial Ashram intersection, stopping over 2,000 drivers on the Ring Road for two hours.
“We became the victims of improper implementation of the Supreme Court order. When drivers with all India permits do not ply as city taxis and were exempted by the court then why should the traffic police fine us and impound our vehicles,” said Sanjay Samrat, president of DTTTA.
Diesel cabs, which mostly ply on an All India Tourist Permit (AITP), are only allowed to pick up passengers from Delhi if they are ferrying them outside Delhi-NCR limits. The pick-up and drop locations cannot be within Delhi-NCR region.
Other smaller unions hit the streets in protest, creating snarls in several major intersections such as Dhaula Kuan, Rajokri Border, Sarai Kale Khan, Mayur Vihar phase-II, Patel Nagar, Subroto Park and Rao Tula Ram Marg.
On Sunday, the apex court refused to extend the deadline for commercial passenger vehicles to switch to CNG and said cab unions should have discarded diesel in 1998, when the top court first banned the polluting fuel.