City auto drivers stare at a bleak futureUpdated: Jun 01, 2020 23:30 IST
Auto-rickshaws have slowly begun returning to the city streets over the past two weeks, ever since the beginning of Lockdown 4.0, which began on May 17. However, several of them, on Monday, said they are earning very little, and that they do not see any hopes of a financial recovery at least for the next year.
According to Yogesh Sharma, state general secretary, Haryana Auto Chalak Sanghatan, “Most auto drivers do not own the vehicles they drive. The daily rent for an auto, depending on its condition and mileage, is between ₹300 and ₹500 per day. Add to that another ₹200 to ₹300 for fuel. However, these days, auto drivers are unable to earn anything more than ₹400 a day, if at all. This does not cover even their basic costs. As such, only those who are working with app-based services or those who own their independent vehicles are plying.”
Sharma said in the days following the lockdown, he was flooded with several calls from distressed auto drivers who were trying to find their way back to their home states. Before the outbreak, Sharma estimated that there were anywhere between 25,000 to 30,000 autos plying in the district on a daily basis. “At least one-third of these drivers have simply packed up and gone home. Unions leaders have been in talks with some of the drivers in Gurugram and Faridabad. However, it does not seem like things will pick up financially until the next year or so,” Sharma said.
With most people preferring to commute via private cabs or their own personal vehicles — as evidenced in a recent public perception survey in Delhi-NCR by the Centre for Science and Energy — the demand for autos has fallen to unprecedented levels, drivers said.
“Our main source of passengers were Metro commuters and tenants living in rented accommodations. But many people have returned home now. Work has completely dried up. If I am lucky, my daily earnings will come to ₹200 but not more,” said Javed Uddin, an auto driver residing in Nathupur village.
Auto drivers have currently pinned their hopes on the Delhi Metro, which they hope will resume soon. “If that happens, then we will be able to find passengers along the MG Road Corridor, from Guru Dronacharya to Huda City Centre Metro station. But if the Metro doesn’t start soon, things will be difficult,” said Uddin.
The few auto drivers who are still plying, however, are going the extra mile to protect themselves and commuters from the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Several of them said they have equipped themselves with masks, hand sanitisers and disinfectants and have also installed protective plastic screens in their vehicles to keep themselves and passengers separated. Many others said they have begun accepting digital payments to minimise contact with commuters.
A majority of these drivers are affiliated with private cab aggregators. “The companies have been providing us with sanitisers and disinfectants,” said Sudhir, an autorickshaw driver and an Uttar Pradesh native, who went only by his first name. Sudhir said he has been sanitising his vehicle twice a day with alcohol-based disinfectant and insists on commuters wearing masks and using hand sanitiser before entering his vehicle.
Lalit Kumar, a driver from Patna, Bihar, said, “Earlier, I had not installed the plastic sheet in my auto-rickshaw. But then I saw that police were issuing challans for not adhering to social distancing norms. So, I used hoarding material from a discarded board and put it up in the auto, which now separates the space between my seat and that of the passenger. I also purchased gloves. I did not want to lose my customers. If they think I am not taking precautions, they will not get in.”