Coronavirus outbreak: The virus is killing us in one way or another, say auto and taxi drivers

Updated: May 27, 2020, 20:05 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar, Sayyed Sameer Abedi | Mumbai

The few autorickshaw and taxi drivers plying in the city rue the unprecedented times - worse than riots or bandhs - as they make ends meet with infrequent incomes, rely on food packets to feed their families

Amid the lockdown, taxi and auto drivers are one of the workforces affected the most and in the direct line of Coronavirus. While many have left the city for their native places, for those who continue to ply, life remains in a struggle with minimal resources.

mid-day reached out to such drivers, who say every single ride is a lifesaver. According to the state's transport department has allowed travel only in case of emergencies and has limited the number of passengers in autorickshaws to one and in taxis to two. With most taxi and autos not out of action and vehicles not running, the industry is on the verge of collapse.

Mumbai Taximen's Union leader Anthony Quadros said that the such is unprecedented for the industry. "Lives have been ruined and most of the drivers have left for their villages. Not even 20 per cent of the cabs are functioning. Those who are surviving are barely making money. The police have been very strict and cabs are not allowed to ply. Our union was able to make barely five passes in Govandi for emergencies. It is a very challenging period," Quadros said.

Lamenting the fact that the government had not announced a financial package or aid for the taxi industry, Quadros said the trade would be in danger if the government did not bail it out once the lockdown is over.

Mumbai Automen's Union leader Shashank Sharad Rao said that the condition of auto drivers is worse as most of them are very poor and many had EMIs to take care of. Rao too has asked the government for financial relief for the industry. The drivers who recently joined the industry have quit. While those still plying are older drivers stuck in the job.

Sadiq Shaikh, taxi driver

Waiting near T Junction, Sadiq Shaikh says he has been a taxi driver for 16 years. "I begin work as usual at 8 am and go home in the evening. I don't earn more than R300 every day, that too if someone is facing an emergency. The police have been very strict. There are four members in my family and I am trying to make ends meet. Whatever I earn, I use it to buy essentials. I have been following all norms, but there is genuinely no business. How long will this continue?"

Mustaq Ali, auto driver

Mustaq Ali

Parked at an auto stand near the Dharavi junction, Mustaq Ali has been driving an auto for 20 years. His wife, son and other relatives left for their village. "We wait in the queue and manage to ferry those who have a genuine emergency. Police are also strict and by the end of the day, I manage to earn R200 to 300. I have some money saved although it's not much. Still, something is better than nothing," Ali said.

Bhupendra Tamhane, auto driver

Bhupendra Tamhane

Showing SMS alerts from the bank, 52-year-old Bhupendra Tamhane, parked near LBS Road, said the lockdown has led to some unique problems. "How do we pay EMIs? The government has made some announcements about loans, but we are still getting messages from banks about repayment. The auto that I bought with a loan is the only asset I have. I ply anywhere without refusal from Bandra to Dahisar now. We barely earn now. I line up for food being distributed nowadays and take three packs home for my family. This way, we at least don't have to cook. The virus is killing us all one way or the other," he said.

Satya Yadav, auto driver

Satya Yadav

Satya Yadav, 52, is in a dilemma. He is the only earning member in his family of four. Waiting at the auto stand near Sion, he said he has been driving an auto for nearly 25 years. "I am not literate and this is the only skill I have. Such times have never come. Not even during riots and blasts and bandhs. The lockdown needs to end fast so that we can survive. At this age, what else can we do? The lockdown has hit us very badly," he said.

300
Approx income of both auto and taxi drivers on days they find fares

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