It took a quiet wait and a few text messages for mobile-based cab aggregators Ola and Uber to be back in business in Delhi-NCR. What began as a fiery strike called by four unions on February 10 against the two companies, now appears to be crumbling with just one union refusing to relent.
Eleven days into the strike and services in Ola and Uber are nearly back to normal, although surge pricing is still being slapped on the humble users. So, how did the strike, which is still on, lose its steam?
The answer lies in the discreet ways these companies resorted to crisis management. Firstly, they began to reach out to their drivers, sometimes reminding them about their car instalments and sometimes assuring them of “safety” while on duty.
“On Saturday night, I got a message from Ola saying that from Sunday onwards, they will cut Rs 850 for my car instalment. Over the past one week, it had sent out messages saying that the daily amount of Rs 850 won’t be cut because of the ongoing strike. So, I had no option but to start driving again, so that I can earn and pay,” said Arjun Shah, who bought a hatchback car with Ola’s financing service.
More drivers have begun to hit the roads Saturday onwards for the simple reason that they are now running out of money. “We gained nothing from the strike, and every month I have to send money to my family in Faizabad. I had sold my wife’s jewellery and mortgaged a small piece of land to buy my car. Survival will be impossible if I refrain from working for more than a week,” said Santosh Singh, who drives a compact sedan with both Ola and Uber.
Ola has even changed its compensation or incentive template. While earlier, it used to give bonuses on the number of rides clocked within a given period, now the same has been changed to the total daily operational bill of the driver.
“Before the strike, they were giving me Rs 700 for five rides and Rs 2,000 for 10 and so on. A few days ago they changed this. On February 18, for example, Ola asked me to earn a bill of R 3,500 on which it promised to give a bonus of R 7,500. I worked for 22 hours and achieved the target. But they cut commission from that too,” Amit Kumar said while showing a message that refers to the Ola Uber business model. The company, however, refused to comment on the issue.
Officials from Ola and Uber, who were in constant touch with HT during the strike, had said the companies are unlikely to take any decision with regard to the demands of drivers and that it would rather prefer to wait and watch.
“It was their strategy to wait and let the strike fizzle out on its own. Obviously, drivers would get back on the roads as they have to run their houses too,” said Kamaljeet Gill, president of Sarvodaya Drivers Association of Delhi (SDAD), the union leading the strike which entered the 11th day on Monday.
For more than a week, thousands of Uber and Ola drivers have been demanding better benefits, accident insurance, relaxation in working hours, higher pay and a reduction in the per kilometre rate, which is currently R 6 – far lesser than autorickshaws and government prescribed rates for AC and Non-AC radio taxis.
A number of drivers are even being told that the strike is over. Companies are also sending out messages to drivers on recent orders of the Delhi High Court and assuring them of safety from goons, who were vandalising cars.
“The strike is over. Ola-Uber won. We have got messages from them saying Delhi police will help us if any untoward incident happens to us. So, we are all taking bookings now,” said another driver who showed the SMS from Uber, but did not wish to be named.
Ola is even offering discounts on car repairing in a bid to help those whose cars have been vandalised by protesting drivers.
“The Delhi High Court’s order has reaffirmed that no one can engage in violence or prevent drivers who wish to drive using apps like Uber from doing so. We’re dismayed that violence and intimidation of drivers has continued, despite a court order on February 13 prohibiting such actions. Continued disruptions will harm drivers looking to earn an honest living, and riders looking to move around Delhi. We’re also grateful that the court has directed the police to take appropriate action to stop this cycle of intimidation,” an Uber spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, a section of Ola drivers took out a protest march from Majnu Ka Tila in North Delhi on Tuesday. The march, led by Sarvodaya Drivers Association of Delhi (SDAD) which is leading the ongoing strike against the cab companies, culminated at transport minister Satyendar Jain’s office.