As the Indian summer heats up, commuters using Uber and Ola in major cities are having to sweat it out.
Drivers for the app-based ride-hailing companies are refusing to turn on their air conditioning in an effort to push for increased commissions, following a series of fuel price hikes. The campaign, which was launched late last month by a trade union, Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT), in the southern city of Hyderabad, has spread to other metro cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Lucknow.
The intention is not to inconvenience commuters but to create awareness about issues faced by the drivers, Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of IFAT, told Rest of World. “We have tried to negotiate better pay with these app-based companies for years, but they don’t hear our grievances,” he said. “That’s why we came up with the campaign.”
The drivers plan to keep the air conditioning off until the government sets a basic rate for app-based cabs, just as it has done in many other taxi services, he added.
In 2018, the New Delhi transport department fixed 16 rupees (21 cents) per kilometer as the base fare for air-conditioned taxis. But several Ola and Uber drivers who spoke to Rest of World in New Delhi said they are paid between 10 rupees and 12 rupees (13–16 cents) per kilometer from the companies.
Uber and Ola did not respond to queries from Rest of World.
Over the years, commissions paid by app-based cab services have steadily dropped, while fuel prices in the country have jumped through the roof. Petrol prices in the national capital, Delhi, have increased by 10.5% since March. The price of compressed natural gas, which is used in many taxis in Delhi, has gone up by over 21.4% since March.
Rajesh, who has been driving for Uber in New Delhi for the last six years andasked to be identified by only his first name, fearing a backlash from the company, said he previously made about 2,000 rupees on a nine-hour shift and might have spent a quarter of that on fuel. “Today, after putting in the same hours, I only make 1,200 to 1,400 rupees a day, and I spend over 600 rupees on fuel.”
The 36-year-old, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, said it has become untenable for him to support his family working for these apps. “I ask customers to pay 30 to 40 rupees extra. Some of them agree. Some get angry and give us bad ratings, which makes it difficult to get bookings,” he said.
On Tuesday, Uber announced it will hike cab fares by 12% across the country, to help its drivers combat rising fuel prices. But Salauddin isn’t satisfied by the announcement. “CNG prices have gone up by almost 22% in the last 10 to 20 days. Also, you have to take into consideration that Uber will also take a 30% commission from us on that 12%. So what are we gaining?”
The “no air-conditioning campaign” will continue until the government fixes a base fare for app-based cab services, he said.
Maharashtra App-based Transport Workers Union, the association of Uber and Ola drivers in one of India’s largest states, has tried to approach the government to find a solution but has had little success, Prashant B. Sawardekar, president of the union, told Rest of World. “A couple of months ago, we had a meeting with India’s transport minister Nitin Gadkari, but he was siding with the companies. He told us that app-based cab services are providing employment, so we shouldn’t create problems. But what’s the point of creating jobs which don’t pay you fairly?” Sawardekar said.
With the temperature in parts of north India reaching upward of 43 degrees Celsius, commuters might have to face a torrid time traveling until drivers and app-based cab services reach a settlement.