Ola, Uber strike steers drivers off the track

S Ronendra Singh New Delhi | Updated on January 13, 2018

Drivers’ pay and incentives are based on the number of trips they make in a day   -  Kamal Narang

Radio taxis, self-drive firms hitch a ride as Delhi-based driver-partners of cab aggregators continue protest

Forty-eight-year-old Devesh (name changed), an Ola driver, is a disillusioned man. Since Ola and Uber drivers in Delhi started their strike on February 10, he and his son have not been able to take out their cars even if they want to, for the fear of it getting damaged by those who are in favour of the strike.

The owner of two brand-new cars — bought on down payments and a monthly EMI of ₹12,500 — is now searching for an alternative job. The second car is driven by his son.

“If things go on like this, we won’t be able to afford the EMI and will be forced to sell our cars in the second-hand market to repay the banks. Alternatively, I will have to look for some business from call centres (transporting employees of IT companies),” he said.

Devesh is trying to get in touch with older contacts who run fleets for IT firms and a few others in Delhi-NCR. Irrespective of the brand, Ola or Uber are good to the drivers till they keep getting customers. The drivers’ pay and incentives are based on the number of trips they make in a day.

“For instance, we get ₹1,400 from Ola when we earn ₹700 from customers, or ₹3,200 on ₹1,500 made from trips. And, if we don’t make any trips, we don’t make any money. It would have been better had I carried on my call centre business,” Devesh laments.

However, not all are unhappy. Companies such as Meru Cabs have benefited as the demand for radio taxis have gone up.

“Demand for our taxis have shot up by more than 2.5 times in Delhi, and vehicles are running 24x7. We have 1,200 vehicles in Delhi-NCR, and around 3,500 on our mobile app platform,” Nilesh Sangoi, Chief Executive Officer, Meru Cabs, told BusinessLine.

Meru, which has been competing against app-based taxi aggregators such as Uber and Ola, said the economic model of such app-based taxis are ill designed, and therefore this was bound to happen.

“They promised drivers high earnings from minimal customer charges, which do not make sense. They have pumped in around $2 billion over years to make their services popular; but still, they not doing fine,” he said.

Besides, they may also harm the banking industry, as so-called driver-entrepreneurs are taking unsecured loans from banks to buy new cars, and are unable to repay on time, he added.

On the other hand, those like self-drive car-sharing company Myles are unimpacted by the strike as they follow a different business model.

“We operate in a different market, promoting the self-driving experience,” said Sakshi Vij, founder and CEO, Myles. “It’s more about customers getting into our services. We never had a product competing with Ola or Uber.”

Drivers’ safety

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court on Friday directed local police to immediately ensure the safety of drivers and also warned driver unions such as Sarvodaya Driver Association that they “cannot demand anything from plaintiffs (Ola, Uber) except by peaceful commercial negotiations”.

“The Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) or any other officer of equal rank nominated by the Commissioner of Police is requested to forthwith ensure that drivers/owners having contract with plaintiffs (Ola and Uber) and wanting to ply are not stopped or blocked from plying and that their vehicles are not damaged,” the order said. The Court has listed the matter for further hearing on February 28.

With this, some of the drivers who are not in favour of the strike could resume services from Saturday.

When contacted, Ola and Uber said the situation is improving.

“We have been listening to our driver-partners all along, and are committed to enabling them to resume serving,” said an Uber spokesperson. “We thank the authorities for their support so far and urge them to continue enforcing the order, and help us ensure safety of our riders and driver-partners. In the event of isolated incidents of intimidation, we urge riders and drivers to dial 100.”

Published on February 17, 2017

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