More money for poorer services

Nov 10, 2018, 07:15 IST | Lindsay Pereira

App-based and regular taxi services want commuters to shell out far more for rides, but give us almost nothing in return

More money for poorer services
Ola and Uber drivers protesting at Chakala last week. I believe Bombayites would be more accommodating towards these demands and strikes if we were to actually get something in return for our money. Pic/PTI

Lindsay PereiraI try and empathise with cab and rickshaw drivers. I really, really do. I can't imagine what life for them is like on a regular basis, stuck as they are in traffic that drives most of us insane within a couple of hours.

I don't know what it feels like to constantly manoeuvre from one clogged part of the city to another, dodging corrupt policemen and irate drivers, trying to manage potholed streets that lead to an endless cycle of repairs, struggling to find a spot to park in, or stranded on highways without access to a public toilet because our taxes are diverted towards building statues in the sea instead. And so, I empathise.

That empathy starts to fade rather quickly when taxis and rickshaws go on strike. I recognise their right to do this, and know they probably have valid reasons to do so, given how exploitative corporate India can be, but it's hard to be forgiving when one is constantly held to ransom.

Consider the latest strike if you will, which dragged on for over a week. Cabbies who dared to get back on the streets simply because they needed to make a living were beaten up. Their vehicles were vandalised, which means they ended up with even less after the strike than they did before. Some drivers may have had the luxury of being of being able to sit at home and wait for their unions to arrive at a deal, but I'm willing to bet a majority had to struggle to pay the bills because daily wages alone were keeping their families afloat.

I believe Bombayites would be more accommodating towards these demands and strikes if we were to actually get something in return for our money. App-based cab operators have assured drivers of an increase in rates per kilometre, but make no promises of any kind to commuters in return. Apparently, rates are to increase from Rs 8 to Rs 12 for smaller cars, Rs 12 to Rs 15 per kilometre for sedans, and Rs 16 to Rs 19 for SUVs. There are a few other promises being made, too, because making promises comes naturally and easily to most companies. This is good for the drivers but will mean nothing for the rest of us who will continue to be at their mercy.

Try booking a cab from a place that's hard to reach. Thanks to how the BMC functions, this can now be any part of the city, so whip out your phone and try. Don't worry about the time of day, because it doesn't matter. Your driver may choose to turn up or arrive later than he is supposed to in the hope that you will cancel. He may pick you up and drop you halfway after pointing out that the ride isn't economically feasible for him. Vehicles may simply not show up on the map if they aren't interested in the area you live in. As for safety, a simple online search will show how many people have been molested, harassed and intimidated by drivers of app-based services.

The reaction of app-based companies to all these incidents has been consistent: They have stayed silent. They respond to strikes with prepared statements about trying to restore services and supporting 'driver partners' but do nothing when confronted with irresponsible behaviour, over-charging, harassment, or an outright refusal of services. Their idea of customer service is an automated bot that asks customers to email complaints. Getting a human being on the line in the event of an emergency is not an option.

This isn't to say regular cab or rickshaw drivers behave any better. Try hailing one outside a railway station of your choice and find out the hard way what a daily commute is like for millions of fellow residents. Think about the laws broken with impunity by drivers who refuse commuters, pack in more people than they are allowed to, or charge what they want to irrespective of what the meter reading is. They want us to pay more too, but aren't willing to change the way they function either.

Respect is a two-way street. Companies want to charge us more for their products and services but refuse to meet us halfway when it comes to promises that are made but never kept. Out government refuses to step in, leaving us helpless at the hands of unscrupulous operators who care about nothing but their bottom line. Maybe we should go on strike, too.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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