Mumbai’s commuters endured a day of misery on Tuesday, when a taxi strike coincided with heavy rains and disrupted local trains. Lakhs of commuters in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai were stranded as most black-and-yellow taxis stayed off the roads to support a protest by the Jai Bhagavan Rickshaw Taxi Mahasangh (JBRTM), a little-known union, against app-based taxi services such as Uber and Ola. The dearth of trains and taxis meant that app-based services could charge passengers up to five times the normal rate.
JBRTM organised Tuesday’s protest without the support of any major taxi union except Swabhiman Sanghatana. It held a rally at Azad Maidan, which was attended by fewer than 5,000 taxi drivers. Outside the maidan, a few drivers of black-and-yellow taxis damaged the cab of an Ola driver and two vans owned by news channels. A cameraman with a news channel suffered minor injuries in the scuffle before the Azad Maidan police arrested seven people. Balasaheb Sanap, leader of JBRTM, claimed that the seven drivers did not belong to his union. “It may be a conspiracy by other unions,” he said.
According to sources in taxi unions, about 70% of black-and-yellow taxis in Mumbai stayed off the roads. While there were a few taxis available in parts of south Mumbai, in many areas even share-rickshaw stands were shut, increasing pressure on BEST buses.
At Tuesday’s rally, JBRTM threatened an indefinite strike by taxis and autorickshaws from July 26 if the government failed to introduce regulations for app-based taxis and rickshaws. Dhananjay Munde, leader of the opposition in the legislative council, said he will take up cabbies’ issues in the house. “Despite not following any rules and regulations, drivers of Ola and Uber cabs earn money and no action is taken against them. Meanwhile, conventional taxi drivers are being targeted despite following every rule,” said Rajraj Sharma, 60, who participated in the protest rally.
Stranded commuters told HT of the troubles they faced and criticised taxi drivers. “Cabbies are not providing better service despite fare hikes. If others (aggregators) giving better service, why should they agitate?” asked Manish Chauhan, a passenger.