Ola, Uber strike: Mumbai Police arrests MNS transport wing chief, 11 others

Cab drivers of Ola and Uber platforms protest for their demands in Mumbai. Photo: PTI
On the second day of the Ola, Uber indefinite strike, the Mumbai Police on Tuesday arrested 12 people, including Sanjay Naik, the president of the transport wing of the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), besides some drivers of either Ola or Uber, an executive of a ride-hailing company told Business Standard. The arrests were made after the filing of a first information report (FIR) against the MNS workers for organising the nationwide strike. 

The indefinite strike of drivers of cab aggregators Ola and Uber continued for a second day on Tuesday causing a lot of difficulties for scores of office-goers and other commuters in the metros. 

There are around 1.5 million Ula and Ola cabs in the country, and many of them refused to operate, crippling traffic and causing inconvenience to travellers. "Drivers are in huge debt," said Sanjay Naik, president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Vahtuk Sena, the transport wing of the MNS, adding that they were not making enough money to survive or service their car loans payments. While all of Uber’s cars are owned by the company, Ola allows its drivers to own some of its cabs as well as runs its own cabs across the country. 

The strike, being held in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, among others, was called to protest the low earnings of drivers operating cabs for Ola and Uber. They are currently being paid Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 a month, according to media reports. 

In the past two years, almost 15 strikes have been announced by Ola and Uber drivers. From wanting the monthly income once promised by the aggregators to even demands for mandatory Know Your Customer (KYC) checks for riders, the drivers have asked for various things. 

Here are the top 10 developments in the Uber, Ola indefinite strike:

1. MNS President, 11 others arrested: The police had yesterday issued notices to leaders of the union under section 149 of CrPC relating to unlawful assembly. When the strike was not called off even after that, the Mumbai Police registered an FIR (find pictures below) and then arrested 12 people — Nitin Nopgavkar, Rabahan Khan, Narayan Pas, Srinivas Swami, Vinod Bhode, Balram Chowdhari, Dilip, Wahid Sheikh, Yakub Mehta, Nasir Sheikh, Rupesh Bhode, Abdul Sheikh, Ramesh Pal, Mohd Ramzan Sheikh, Sachin Bhabar and Rajendu Gavkar -- the executive of a ride-hailing company quotes earlier told Business Standard, asking not to be named. 

You can find the pictures of the FIR at the end of this copy

2. Ola, Uber indefinite strike continuesOffice commuters who use the app-based service daily were in for a longer wait today as such cabs were fewer, thanks to the strike. 

The impact was minimal in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Hyderabad, according to commuters, driver unions and executives at the cab-hailing app companies.

3. Mumbai worst hit: “There has been little impact on rides in cities other than Mumbai,” claimed an Ola spokesperson. Besides the little-to-zero availability of cars, millions of commuters faced hardships during the peak office hours today as hundreds of agitating students blocked the rail traffic, including suburban services between the busy Matunga and Dadar stations, over their demand for jobs in Indian Railways. While the rail roko protest has been called off, users are still struggling to find Ola and Uber cabs.

"I faced the same issue. No cabs agreed to come from Parel to Powai," tweeted hotelier Benaifer Kapadia.

According to Ola spokesperson, “We have seen a slight improvement in our services in Mumbai. But for the situation to improve significantly, it is imperative that intimidation of driver partners and vandalism of their cars by vested interests be stopped. New economy companies like us are counting on the police to end the strike.”

5. Mumbai Police and Ola, Uber working on solutions: “We have been informed by the Mumbai Police that they have proactively taken all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of commuters during their cab rides in the city,” an Ola spokesperson told Business Standard. He, however, did not comment on whether the demands of the drivers would be met or not.

On the other hand, Uber said the company was committed to serving its customers."We regret the disruption caused to our rider and driver community by a small group of individuals. We remain committed to serving the city, ensuring driver partners can continue to access stable earning opportunities, while giving riders a convenient option to get around their city," Uber said in a statement.

6. Drivers claim Ola, Uber cheated them: Ola and Uber drivers said that while both the firms promised them an average monthly income between Rs 100,000 and Rs 150,000, this was not the case. They said they initially believed the companies and ended up buying cars on loans. Now that they were underpaid, they decided to go on a strike, said Swaraj Vahan Chalak Malak Sanghatna President Guru Katti, reported the Times of India

While taxi-hailing companies offered loan-guarantee letters to drivers through the Mudra scheme, and that without any verification, they are defaulting on repayment now as their costs are not covered, Naik claimed. Other taxi unions, including the Mumbai Taximen's Union, have extended support.

An average cost of a car for use as a cab varies from Rs 500,000 to Rs 700,000. 

7. Ola driver feeling pressured to partictipate in strike: While most drivers want to their demands met, an Ola driver, Harish, told Business Standard: “My livelihood depends on my daily driving. I have to take care of my family, which has my wife, two schoolgoing children and an old ailing mother. Since yesterday, I am being pressured not to log on to the taxi app for taking bookings. I have put my last four years' savings in buying this taxi. I am feeling helpless for not being allowed to drive. This strike is helping none -- not drivers, not customers. I just want this to end so that I can get on with my driving and support my family.”

8. Fuel hike adds to Ola, Uber drivers’ woes: Katti said a hike in fuel prices had left drivers in distress, with many now unable to pay the instalments on the loans they took for their cabs, added ToI.

On top of this, a steep commission of almost 35 per cent charged by the taxi-hailing companies on every ride has always been a bone of contention.

Drop in per-km fare is another nightmare. While the per-kilometre fare once hovered around Rs 10, it has now dropped to Rs 6 due to stiff competition between Ola and Uber. Besides, Ola Share offers share passes varying on the distance one intends to travel. For instance, one could buy a pass for Rs 10 valid for 30 days; that would be required to pay just Rs 30 for a distance up to four km, and Rs 200 for distance up to 20 km. Similarly, Uber offers slashed rates on its ‘POOL’ rides and often gives 50 per cent discount to users on Uber Go, the cheapest Uber car ride after share. 

9. Ola giving preference to cars owned by them: Allegations have also been made that Ola is giving preference to the drivers of its own fleet rather than those who drive their own cars. Highlighting one such incident, a driver said that even if a car owned by them was closer to a rider, the company would book for the rider a car owned by the company, according to media reports. 

10. Not protesting for the first time: Earlier, on March 2017, Ola and Uber drivers went on a strike in Delhi-NCR region, demanding a hike in per-km fare. Sarvodaya Drivers’ Association, which extended its support to 125,000 app-based taxi drivers in Delhi-NCR, had demanded that fares be increased from the existing Rs 6 per km to around Rs 20 per km. It also demanded the abolition of the commission the drivers were charged by companies. They had gone on a strike in February, too, which lasted 13 days, causing inconvenience to commuters in Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad.

Some drivers have even tried to commit suicide in the past: In March 2017, two drivers in Bengaluru had tried to commit suicide outside Ola’s office in the city, while one who ignored the strike was assaulted by protesters. Drivers attached to Uber and Ola in Bengaluru had started their hunger strike at Freedom Park to protest falling earnings on the cab-hailing platforms. Even then, drivers had been complaining of falling earnings as both companies reduced incentives. These companies had also kept fares rock-bottom as they feared losing customers if prices increased.

FIR report obtained by Business Standard

Picture of the FIR filed by Mumbai Police

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