More money for poorer ser­vices

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

Mid Day - - Comment - Lind­say Pereira Send your feed­back to mail­bag@mid-day.com

Itry 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 R8 to 12 for smaller cars, R12 to R15 per kilo­me­tre for sedans,

Rand R16 to R 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

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

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.

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