Mumbai's taxi drivers strike in protest against Uber's pricing

Mumbai’s traditional taxi drivers went on strike yesterday, protesting against the car-hailing service Uber that they say is undercutting their fares and threatening to drive them out of business.

Drivers of Mumbai’s “black and yellow” cabs, as well as fleet taxi and auto rickshaw drivers, took part in the strike in their thousands, organisers said.

Hundreds of drivers gathered at Azad Maidan, the sports ground in south Mumbai, to protest against Uber and its Indian rival, Ola.

“It’s very difficult for us to work and we’re earning less money,” said Sultan Sheikh, who has been a taxi driver in Mumbai for 16 years. “Their rates are lower. They are big companies and they have lots of technology. We don’t have that.”

The drivers are demanding that the app-based companies bring their fares in line with the rates set by the local government authorities. Failing that, the companies should be shut down completely, say the local taxi drivers.

While the local traditional taxis charge 15 rupees (81 fils) per kilometre, Uber and Ola charge as low as 8 rupees and 6 rupees a kilometre respectively.

San Francisco-based Uber has been rapidly expanding across India since 2013. Last year, it unveiled plans to invest $1 billion in India in the space of just nine months. Bangalore-based Ola, which kicked off its app service in 2012, has also been expanding fast and is trying to raise fresh funds as it battles against Uber for market share. The two operators have been locked in price wars and slashed their fares across India. Uber and Ola declined to comment on the strike.

“We will organise another strike in July if our demands are not met,” said Balasaheb Sanap, the president of the Jai Bhagwan Taxi Rickshaw Sanghatana, a union that led the protest against what it described as an unfair pricing strategy.

Santosh Singh, 39, a fleet taxi driver who took part in the strike, said that before Uber and Ola came into the market, he used to make 80,000 to 90,000 rupees a month, but now makes only 25,000 to 30,000 rupees.

“I have a loan on my taxi to pay off, 18,000 rupees a month, but I haven’t been able to pay the instalments for the past two months,” he said. “I’m worried that the bank will take my car from me.”

He has a son and daughter who are teenagers and he said he could no longer afford to pay for their education, so he has been forced to borrow money from the bank earlier this month.

“There are some people who want to hang themselves because of Ola and Uber,” he said.

“I’m not that educated to do another job,” Mr Singh said, explaining he had been a taxi driver for 18 years.

Some drivers said that they would resort to violence if their demands were not met by the government.

“We don’t want Ola and Uber in India,” said Bhagwan Rajpal, 60. “We’ll set fire and break their taxis if the government does not do anything.”

Other drivers said that they would block the roads with their cabs if nothing was done to resolve their complaints.

Baldev Singh, 72, has been a taxi driver since 1961. He went on strike and joined the protesters yesterday.

“In the last 50 years that I have been driving taxis, nothing like this has happened – business has never been down like this,” he said. “In my life, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

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