The rickshaw drivers in Mumbai stayed off the streets yesterday. It wasn’t the first time they’d done that, and nor would it be the last. Strikes you see are a powerful bargaining tool and something that the politically inclined have used to varying degrees of success long before the country became independent.
Yesterday’s strike was to protest the rising popularity of radio-taxi services, such as Ola & Uber. I have never understood this peculiarity that’s wide spread in India. We simply cannot see others doing better than us. Auto-rickshaw unions have long held the city to ransom with their demands and strikes. Union leaders have turned a deaf ear to the thousands of commuters who face hardships due to the high-handed nature of rickshaw drivers. They autos are driven rashly, they drivers refuse fares blatantly & will merrily hike prices, just to inconvenience passengers. That’s the general sentiment. There are the honest types too (wrote about one such guy here), but they’re the minority that suffers as well in the bargain.
The reasons behind the thriving business of the likes of Ola & Uber are many fold. They offer a clean, air-conditioned ride; are safe to use, especially in Mumbai & can be hailed via their apps as per one’s convenience, without much fear of rejection. All this at a price that’s marginally higher in usual circumstances than the regular black & yellow taxis themselves. Also, as I have personally experienced on a few occasions, they’ve turned out to be cheaper than an autorickshaw ride itself. Now tell me, would you travel in an air-conditioned car with all the advantages above or choose, a bumpy, bone-jarring ride, with all the associated problems? No brainer right? This even despite the fact that the radio-taxi cabs themselves have been panned each time they tried to fleece us through surge-pricing. But that’s beside the point.
The thing to remember is that auto-rickshaw unions have brought this upon themselves. They aren’t a necessary evil but a compulsion that’s been forced down by a myopic administration which has refused to act decisively in matters comprising public transportation. This auto-rickshaw strike meant that most people were inconvenienced. They had to travel in overcrowded buses & experience severe hardship as many struggled to commute between the train/metro services & their residence/workplace. The flip-side however, was that, the roads were empty & congestion, when I’d ventured onto the busy link road in suburban Mumbai during peak hours, was non-existent.
Which brings me to the following questions:
- Why is it that the authorities find themselves helpless against transportation ‘strikes’ time & again?
- Why aren’t we augmenting our bus services (better buses, AC services, etc)?
- Why is it that we are still reluctant to shift to a ‘train-metro-bus’ driven public transportation solution?
Got any answers? Hit up the comments below & fire away. I’m listening…