The ongoing battle between cab aggregators Ola, Uber, and their drivers in Delhi has now become fiercer than initially expected. The drivers’ association has refused to back down from its stance. The strike which was supposed to be a two-day protest was extended for three more days, affecting the daily commute of users.
The drivers claim that since they did not hear back from the cab aggregators, they were left with no choice but to extend the strike to air out their grievances.
Both Uber and Ola commuters in Delhi are facing disruptions in cab availability since the past three days. At several locations, cabs are either showing no cab-availability or a 15-20 min wait time.
Last week, the Sarvodaya Driver Association of Delhi called for a strike and the protestors were demanding better perks and to be paid as per government sanctioned fare i.e. INR 21/km and accident insurance, among other things.
The Court Intervenes
However, this week on Monday evening, Uber managed to win an injunction in the Delhi High Court. The court asked the protesters to restrain from disrupting the day-to-day business of the cab aggregators and asked them to stop instigating partners to join the protests and insinuating violence – a judgment that went against the two unions on strike.
The order has restrained union workers from stopping Uber drivers, vandalising cabs, or hampering them. It has also restrained them from protesting within 500 metres of the company’s offices in Delhi and Gurugram.
An Uber spokesperson said, “We welcome this court order, which prohibits unions, their leaders, and anybody else from obstructing the activities of Uber driver partners as they go about their business. We hope it will enable drivers to get back behind the wheel, something many have been telling us they wish to do. We’re sorry that our service has been disrupted and for any inconvenience, this has caused.”
The Demands: Promises + Expectations > Reality
Founded in Jan 2011 by IIT Bombay alumni Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati, Ola claims to have users across 102 cities that can book from over 500,000 vehicles across cabs, autorickshaws, and taxis. On the other hand, Uber is available in 29 Indian cities.
When both the cab aggregators were trying to cement their position as market leaders, they worked aggressively to lure the driver partners with incentives and bonuses.
A driver partner who works at Uber, claims that the drivers were offered as much as INR 2,000-INR 5,000 on completion of a stipulated number of trips. Also, in order to increase their fleets, both aggregators also offered a bonus of up to INR 10,000 for bringing new driver partners to the platform.
As time passed and with the increased incomes a lot of driver partners went on to take up cars on loan, to associate with the cab aggregators – as a job that reportedly assured an income of INR 1 Lakh per month.
Another driver said, “I have three autos and stopped the auto business to be a part of Uber. However, now as the incentives have been withdrawn, it is difficult to take out money to repay the loan on this cab I’m driving. If things go on this way, I will be forced to return to driving an auto.”
In the race to gain more and more customers, both players resorted to slashing fares. Initially, the cab fares were from INR 18/km. As claimed by the drivers, they are now paid only INR 6/km, irrespective of the car category they are driving (UberGO/UberXL). With the introduction of shared-rides, the per kilometre fare was also reduced to as low as INR 3/km.
Drivers now have to work for 12 hours-15 hours at a stretch to meet targets for gaining incentives and are still unable to make ends meet.
A recent ET report claims the drivers working with these online cab aggregators are reportedly planning to take the strike to other major cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai. Around 50,000 drivers in Bengaluru, 25,000 drivers in Hyderabad, and over 5,000 drivers in Chennai have planned to go for a strike on the February 15, 2017.
Talking about reports of an impending strike in Bengaluru, an Uber spokesperson said that they do not have any formal notifications for strikes.
Tanveer Pasha, President of the Ola, TaxiForSure and Uber (OTU) Drivers’ Union in Bengaluru said, “We are focussing on a strike across major cities in south India. The minimum INR 1 lakh monthly revenue promised to us, in the beginning, doesn’t exceed INR 30,000 now, and many drivers have to pay at least INR 16,000- INR 18,000 on EMIs.”
The report also states that the President of the Telangana Association for Ola and Uber drivers, M Sunil and Tamal Arasan (Secretary of the Chennai cabs association), respectively, confirmed plans for a strike in the respective cities.
Cab Aggregators – The Year Of Struggles
On the other hand, the cab aggregators have remained silent on the question of withdrawal of incentives so far. On the first day of protest Uber issued a statement saying, “A small group of people are disrupting the Uber service in parts of Delhi, and there have been isolated reports of threats and intimidation. We are working hard to ensure reliable rides are available for everyone and we can keep the city moving. We call on authorities to ensure the safety of riders and drivers.”
On the whole, 2016 was a rough year for cab aggregators. In April 2016, in a complaint filed in Delhi High Court, Uber alleged that Ola employees and agents are making false bookings on its app. The company sued Ola for $7.5 Mn (INR 50 Cr). In July, the Delhi Autorickshaw Sangh and Delhi Pradesh Taxi Union called for an indefinite strike against app-based taxi services in New Delhi. In August, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to Ola and Uber to stop surge pricing and follow government prescribed fares.
The aggregators also had a run-in with other state authorities. In July, the Karnataka Transport Department issued a notice to Ola, for breaking the rules after obtaining its license in the state. Both Uber and Ola registered themselves with the Karnataka On Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rule, 2016 and while Ola received the license, Uber didn’t. Earlier in February 2017, UberPOOL and Ola Share services were deemed illegal in the state of Karnataka. Later, the Karnataka government gave the companies a 15-day extension to comply with rules regarding ride-sharing services.
2017 brought no respite to the either. Ola saw the exit of two senior executives this week – with Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Rajiv Bansal and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Raghuvesh Sarup resigned from the company. Also, SoftBank Group COO and Managing Director Jonathan Bullock resigned from the boards of Ola.