Karnataka: 21 Auto Driver Unions in Bengaluru Announce Protest on December 29
Image Courtesy: Pixahive
Bengaluru: Auto rickshaw unions across Bengaluru have planned a day-long protest on December 29 to protest the permits issued by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to e-bike taxi services, as per several news reports. While the possibility of strike was not ruled out, members of the Auto Rickshaw Drivers Union (ARDU) told NewsClick that no decision had been taken regarding a strike. The auto drivers plan to march from City Railway Station to the Vidhana Soudha (State Assembly). Close to five thousand auto drivers are expected to join.
The New Indian Express reported that on December 16, the Karnataka state transport authority granted permission to a company called ‘Wicked Ride’ to operate 100 e-bike taxis for a period of five years. The electric bike taxi policy was envisioned as a means to provide first and last-mile connectivity to commuters in Bengaluru. Under this permit, e-bike taxis can offer trips up to 10 km at a time.
In a press release, the federation of auto unions stated that “the app-based transport companies are trying to attract passengers and drivers with offers and incentives, due to which the public transport system is on the verge of ruin. In the last two years, unauthorised whiteboard bike taxis have spread like the plague and the government is unable to control them.” The whiteboard refers to privately registered bikes, which do not have permission to offer commercial services. Only vehicles with yellow license plates can offer taxi services. The auto drivers say that these unauthorised bike taxis were eating into their earnings.
In 2021, several ‘whiteboard’ bike taxis (affiliated with Rapido) were seized by the transport department for illegally offering taxi services. Unions say that the use of bike taxis becomes a daylight robbery of auto drivers’ earnings. The unions singled out the ‘Rapido’ bike taxi company for criticism. However, Uber also offers a bike taxi service in Bengaluru.
Earlier in October, the state government banned the auto services offered by Uber, Ola and Rapido. The services were banned due to alleged breaches of government rules over the minimum fare. The minimum fare for autos is Rs. 30 for the first two kilometres, following which there’s a charge of Rs. 15/km. However, app-based services were not adhering to these rules. The cab companies approached the High Court, following which they procured a stay order on the ban. Presently, all app-based cab companies are offering auto services in Bengaluru, while Rapido and Uber also offer bike taxi services.
Narsimha Murthy is the Bengaluru city Secretary of the ARDU union (affiliated with Centre of Indian Trade Unions) said that providing permits to ‘Wicked Ride’ would open the floodgates for bike taxis to take over the public transportation system. Speaking to NewsClick, he said: “if an auto driver spends 80 km on the road each day, he ends up without passengers for at least 30 km. We also have to spend Rs 300/day on gas and 200/day on rent. We are left with Rs 200-300. Can we run our families on this amount?”
Murthy blamed Transport Minister B Sriramulu for not taking swift action against whiteboard bike taxis. He said: “BJP exists only to help large corporations do business. Sriramulu does not care about auto drivers or their suffering. There are many companies waiting to capture the bike taxi market. One by one, all will be allowed to enter.”
ARDU claims to be the largest auto union in Bengaluru, representing 38000 auto drivers. Murthy says that ARDU took the initiative to form a federation of unions and invited all other union leaders for talks in December. The federation demanded the rollback of the electric bike taxi policy announced by the state government in July 2021. They have also threatened a strike if their demands are ignored.
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