Being a local helps in having lengthy candid conversations if you’re the chatty type and you happen to take a cab or a rickshaw in Bengaluru. Recently, I booked a cab through one of the 3rd party cab aggregator’s app and a young chap in his 20s shared his experience as a driver working for the cab aggregator. For starters, he could not boast enough about the money he made (ranging from 30-40k per month). This was quite heartening as I knew that drivers earlier made anywhere ranging from 10k-20k a month and this required them to dedicate their entire time on one customer 24×7. Also, as a consumer we did not have to haggle with them like we used to with auto rickshaw fellows. I was feeling good about this.
There were riders though. As he zipped through the city at usual ‘cab speeds’, he explained how this worked. Cab aggregator would take a cut out of each ride as they connected them to the consumers and this costed them infrastructure which was mostly built with VC’s capital, most plausibly in a financially unsustainable manner. However, if they managed to earn enough money (fixed from time to time by the aggregator) in a single day, no commission would be deducted. Most drivers would prefer meeting these targets in 3-4 days a week. This would ensure around 16k a week and excluding diesel, they can send home around 10k a week. He even joked about how his father would be suspicious of such quick earnings.
At this juncture, he gave me the shocker. He had been on a shift for over 24 hours! His usual ‘cab speed’ suddenly started scaring me. I am not sure, any human can survive Bengaluru’s traffic throughout the day and remain sane. While we advised him its unsafe personally and got off at our destination, a friend reminded me of an incident involving a cabbie crashing into a British Airways employee who was cycling to work on Airport Road. I missed this news item at the time which does raise the same point I am trying to make. Even if I had read it, it probably would not have made any impact as the issue would still have remained somewhat distant.
I do not advocate any ban, but certainly, this issue should have come to the fore when the governments at national and state level decided to regulate this sector. In fact they did address this issue maybe not in as many words.
At the national level, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways released the ‘Report of the Committee Constituted to Propose Taxi Policy Guideline to Promote Urban Mobility’
‘States may place appropriate cap on the duty hours of drivers in the interest of road safety and in consonance with labour laws.’
At the state level, Transport Department issued ‘The Karnataka on- demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules, 2016’ . This was subsequently upheld by the High Court of Karnataka.
10 (1) (i) of the rules state
‘The driver shall not be allowed to work beyond the maximum number of hours as stipulated under Motor Transport Workers Act 1961.(Central Act No 27 of 1961)’
Section 25 of the Karnataka Motor Transport Workers Rules 1964 states that maximum cap is 16 hours a day, 72 hours a week. The exceptional circumstances require chief inspector’s approval (10 hours a day is the norm, even 16 hours is exceptional).
There are some possible legal issues. Even though Motor Transport Workers rules are inserted in the rules that are to be followed by the aggregator, the rules written originally in 1960s was intended at taxi cab owners who hired drivers. In this case, the aggregator may claim that he technically does not own the cab and it is the volition of individual cab owners who themselves mostly drive.
Legal technicalities aside, I feel it is a public safety issue to allow ‘zombie’ drivers to ply the roads and I am not sure the cab aggregators are doing much to regulate driver behaviour although technology allows them to monitor the hours of work put in by these overworked drivers.