As the going gets tough, aggregator cab drivers change lanes
Nearly 15,000 drivers have quit, and 10,000 vehicles gone off the road inconveniencing passengers whose wait gets longer, bookings don’t materialise, and often forced to pick premium options
Mumbai: If you have been feeling, off late, that the waiting time for Ola and Uber cabs has gone up, you are not alone. Regular passengers agree with you. And so do different aggregator cab unions who said at least 15,000 drivers have switched to other jobs and 8,000-10,000 cabs have gone off the roads resulting in a shortage of cabs on the city roads.
Some of the reasons cited by the drivers for leaving the profession are the higher share of earnings they must pay the aggregator companies. Some operators have started running their own fleet and are said to give preference to their vehicles in booking rides. New charges adopted by the aggregator operators, which the drivers have to pay. Rise in the prices of CNG, diesel and petrol. All the above factors have resulted in a drop in the daily earnings of the drivers.
Transport experts said the whole idea of aggregator cabs pitching themselves as a solution to fare refusals from autos and taxis, and the ease in last mile connectivity, appears to have hit a bad patch.
Less cabs on Mumbai roads
Records of Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) in Mumbai and its metropolitan region, show 80,000 registrations of T-permit vehicles including kaali peeli, inter-city and aggregator cabs. However, 50% or less of these cabs are plying on the roads.
The shortage of cabs on the roads is evident going by the number of complaints from passengers, who claim that booking a ride with an aggregator cab has become a nightmare. Most of them say that while cabs are seen hovering around one’s location, with the nearest one barely four to six minutes away, it’s a long wait after booking one.
“It gets annoying when you are in a hurry and try to book cab from these aggregators. Most of the time it keeps buffering for long, even as the app shows that there is a cab at a particular location. It’s a task getting a confirmed ride,” said Aditi Agarwal, a resident of Mulund who works for a private company.
Passengers complained that the average wait time is now 10-15 minutes as against five minutes a few years ago. Many complaints also revolve around cancellation of trips and charging in excess than what’s displayed on apps.
Passengers also said the basic version of air-conditioned Uber and Ola cabs are rarely available on the grid, forcing one to opt for their premium version that are also not available easily. While auto rickshaws on their platform arrive fast, the flipside is the tariffs are higher than the regular ones.
“There are well over 15,000 drivers, who were a part of our union, who have quit aggregator cabs and switched to other jobs because of the drop in earnings. And it’s not just the drivers, around 8,000-10,000 permit holders have also taken their cars off the road,” Anand Kute, organising secretary, Maharashtra Rajya Rashtriya Kamgar Sangh.
The unions said that a few years ago when the demand for Uber and Ola was high, permit holders appointed at least two drivers for each shift — day and night. This practice is no longer followed because many drivers have moved out of the profession. This has further impacted on the availability of aggregator cabs on the roads, and this inconveniences people as they are unable to plan their journey as the arrival time of these cabs is unknown.
“There are alternative new travel apps that are less popular. These cabs are easily available indicating that the policies of the popular aggregator taxi operators need to be amended and made more user and driver friendly,” said Paresh Rawal, an expert in public policy and transportation, who is also a user of these aggregator cabs.
The government is strengthening the public mass transit system by building a web of metro rail around the city and the MMR, which unions claim is also affecting bookings of aggregator cabs. Transport experts said there is once again a vacuum in providing last-mile connectivity, which was the primary reason why people moved to aggregator cabs.
In the suburbs, the share auto rickshaws and regular ones are equally popular. The Central and Western Railways are operating 135 AC train services, the Metro-1 line sees 398 daily services while there are 256 services running on Metro-2A and 7 lines which is getting good response.
“When AC local trains, BEST buses and Metro rail are available, people are migrating to these modes of public transport wherever it’s available because the wait time for aggregator cabs has gone up. People are finding alternate solutions to beat increased wait time, high cost of road travel and traffic jams. So, they seem to prefer the public transport,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.
According to the unions, there are several cases where drivers have moved away from this profession.
“Earlier, these drivers used to travel 150-200kms on an average per day and earn ₹250- ₹500 only. Now, they have moved to other jobs like food and parcel delivery, they barely move around in a radius of 20-25kms throughout the day, are assured of better earnings. They also don’t have to bother about banks confiscating their vehicles against loans,” said Prashant Sawardekar, who heads the Maharashtra App-based Transport Workers Union.
After battling through the maze of city traffic for years, aggregator cab drivers are turning to lesser demanding and better paying professions. Here are some of them with their reasons to do so.
I have associated myself with starting a new cab operating app company. I have learnt the issues faced by both drivers and passengers; be it the fares charged, the hidden taxes, quality of vehicles etc. This is in the pipeline for now. Simultaneously, I also transport goods over an app-based delivery platform.
— Praful Shinde, a resident of Cotton Green, who had put his two vehicles on aggregator platform nearly a decade ago. However, his earnings halved in the last three to four years around the pandemic from ₹60,000-75,000 a month in the initial years.
I am getting 60,000 to even one lakh views on my YouTube videos and I am able to monetise it. I guide auto drivers on alternative ways to earn more and not just be dependent on aggregator cabs, among other things.
—Rajesh Kaldate, an auto rickshaw driver who was riding Uber and Ola cab for five years before the pandemic. Now, in his spare time, he is a youtuber with his own channel ‘Rajest Auto Vlog’, where he has posted 184 videos and has 4.04 thousand subscribers.
When I was driving cab on aggregator platforms, at times I used to be on the roads for 24-hrs straight, yet my daily income used to be ₹600- ₹900 after deducting expenses. It’s not worth driving in traffic jams for so many hours for whatever little I earned. So, I switched my profession and I’m quite happy.
—Avinash Shinde, a resident of Ghatkopar, drove cabs on the Uber and Ola aggregator platforms for almost four years until 2020 after which he started a food cart selling momos. He earns ₹30,000- ₹35,000 per month now and works for 8-9 hours a day.