The ongoing “indefinite” strike by drivers affiliated to Ola and Uber entered its third day today. The reason behind the strike is said be a demand for more incentives. Things have taken an ugly turn with reports of the Uber office in HSR Layout being pelted with stones. And definitely, all is not well.
My experience with Ola and Uber is as bad as anybody else’s. Lack of proper public transport options in Bengaluru forced me to take up Ola Share and Uber Pool as a primary means of getting around the city, and it is evident that a strike like this would cause trouble.
The situation turned rather messy yesterday, with cab drivers calling me up after booking, and then cancelling the ride because I wasn’t paying by cash. Some drivers didn’t respond at all. Instead, they waited for a while and then cancelled, thus making me pay a cancellation charge. Not a good day so far, but the worst was yet to come.
Abused and Threatened by Protesting Drivers
I managed to book myself an Ola Share, boarded with another passenger, and proceeded towards HSR Layout via Vijaya Bank Layout, where the trouble began. A group of twenty odd men, all striking drivers, forced our cab to stop and asked us to leave. We asked the driver to end the ride, and that is where the problem began.
The driver was dragged out of his car, and so were we. We were abused and threatened. We were told that “we know your location so don’t mess with us”.
The frustrating part here was that all of this happened with two policemen, one traffic, and one in his khaki uniform standing there and watching us. Furthermore, this took place exactly a 100 metres away from the Regional Transport Office (KA-51, Electronics City) with three RTO officials standing next to the policemen.
Now this brings about a large number of questions into our minds.
The protest is mainly about incentives, but what more incentives do the drivers need? They got the incentive to join the aggregator, took away the commuters from buses and auto rickshaws, and now rule the roost. Isn’t that enough? Why should they be given more incentives?
Cab drivers form the spoilt brat section of the transport sector, having been spoilt by the incentives, and now are not relenting to work at normal rates given that the passengers will keep coming to them. There is a limit to greed.
Given the behaviour of the striking drivers, I shudder to think what would happen to our driver. He might have gotten beaten up, they might have damaged his car or phone, we don’t know. Further, given how they behaved with us, I’m convinced that their behaviour would have been no different had it been a woman in place of me or my co-passenger.
Grabbing a woman and dragging her out of the car is a clear case of molestation and sexual assault.
Is Unionisation the Solution?
The police were mute spectators, as were the RTO officials. Their inaction and silence indicates possible complicity in such activities. Such brazen hooliganism shouldn’t even exist in our society.
Further comes the question of unionisation of the sector. It’s alright if a bunch of drivers are protesting and striking, that’s their choice. But preventing others from working? Abusing the passengers for availing driver’s services? How is that even justified? Live and let live, work and let others work. By stooping to such levels, the drivers are merely losing money that they would make in a day.
The only way out of this would be if Ola and Uber, as aggregators, cut benefits and perks given to those striking. However, that may not happen. It may reduce the availability of cabs on the road, and given Bengaluru’s poor transport infrastructure, it may not augur well for the city.
Further, the erring drivers, given today’s behaviour, may harass the hardworking, incentive-earning driver, causing him more problems because the police is also known to harass cab drivers. Such harassment may force them to quit, or worse, it might lead them to take extreme steps, such as suicide.
The case of cab drivers committing suicide is not new to our country, and it is a very disturbing scenario. Even if the RTO and police do wake up and do something, what can they do?
They can at best suspend the commercial vehicle permit or charge the protestors with disrupting peace and harmony which doesn’t seem much of a deterrent to prevent such untoward incidents in the future.
Further, with Uber and Ola clearly promising an income of a certain amount, subject to the driver’s capabilities, why are the aggregators, and indirectly the public, being held hostage?
This greed, has resulted in hooliganism, something that has no place in our society. It’s high time the aggregators stopped their incentives to drivers who indulge in such a behaviour, and the law enforcement should wake up to prevent this from escalating.
Dragging out passengers is assault, pelting stones at the office is vandalism and abusing people, well, that’s just nasty.
(The writer is a Bengaluru-based journalist and can be reached @rsrikanth05. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)