Commuters in the suburbs struggled on Wednesday as a majority of autorickshaws were off the roads because of a strike called by the Mumbai Autorickshawmens’ Union. The union’s primary demand: Regulation of app-based cabs such as Ola an Uber.
No other taxi or autorickshaw union supported or participated in the strike.
After suburban trains and Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) buses, autorickshaws are the third-largest mode of public transport in the financial capital of the country. So after more than 80,000 autorickshaws went off the roads, commuters were left in a lurch and had to opt for other options like BEST buses, black-and-yellow cabs, Ola and Uber cabs and private vehicles.
The strike began at midnight and ended around 5pm, bringing relief to commuters returning home from work, during evening peak hours. But commuters faced a tough time as a majority of autorickshaws were unavailable in the morning and through most of the day. Most commuters had to stand in long queues at bus stops and taxi stands.
BEST operated 123 extra buses. MSRTC, of which the transport minister Diwakar Raote is chairman, however, did not operate any buses despite the government’s instruction.
Several commuters chose to book Ola and Uber cabs, but struggled because of surge pricing and not enough cabs. “Commuters had to travel in groups of four-five people and share the fare,” said an RTO official, requesting anonymity. “The mini cab which costs relatively less was not available on the Ola app. Prime vehicles cost almost double the rate. Finally, I had to take a black-and-yellow taxi, but had to wait for almost half-an-hour,” said Revati Desai, a Santacruz resident, who travels to Andheri by auto every day.
Some autorickshaw and taxis drivers, especially outside the railway trains, tried to fleece commuters by overcharging them.
The auto union, however, said the strike as a big success, and claimed that more than 90% of the autorickshaws were off the roads. “The transport department agreed to set up a joint team to curb clandestine operations, which was one of our main demands. If the department takes action against illegal vehicles, our earnings will go up. We received a positive response about our other demands as well,” said Shashank Rao, leader of the union.
Transport commissioner Pravin Gedam said their department is trying to address the demands made by the unions that are feasible. “Transport minister Diwakar Raote has called a meeting of the taxi and autorickshaw unions to solve their issues,” he said.