Chaos on Bengaluru roads as Uber, Ola drivers protest

Many drivers attached to India's two largest cab aggregators Uber and Ola went off the roads of Bengaluru on Monday to protest falling earnings as the two companies dropped fares to compete for customers, leading to reduced incentives for the drivers.

Their demand is that both firms stick to the Rs19.50 minimum fare fixed by the state government. The drivers, a majority of them from rural Karnataka, have sought the intervention of H D Kumaraswamy, President of the Janata Dal (Secular), the party founded by his father, former prime minister H D Deve Gowda.

"It should be a win-win situation for both the drivers and the companies. It should not be at each other's cost," said Kumaraswamy, who on Monday petitioned Karnataka's transport minister Ramalinga Reddy to resolve the issue. "Most of the drivers are from villages. They are struggling to even pay EMI."

The Monday morning protest forced an unprecedented surge in the number of private vehicles on roads, bringing traffic to a standstill in most roads. Commuters who do not own vehicles also faced considerable hardship.
Bengaluru is among the biggest markets for both taxi aggregators, who have seen similar strikes in other cities. Early this month, drivers went on a five-day strike seeking better incentives from the aggregators.

Kumaraswamy's intervention comes a year ahead of the assembly elections in Karnataka, where the party looks to being a key player in the next government. While the ruling Congress will face the anti-incumbency factor, the main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing internal strife, with its two key leaders - former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and his former deputy K S Eshwarappa - fighting publicly.

Both Ola and Uber have separate leasing arms, where they promote drivers to lease cars and run on their platform. The drivers are allowed to pay instalments every day, besides getting cars and service on discount when they lease from the platform.

"They are giving vehicles on lease to drivers from other states and are driving more business to them. We cannot even pay our EMIs (equated monthly instalments) on the cars as there is no business and whatever we do get is very low-priced," said Tanveer Pasha of the Ola TaxiForSure and Uber Drivers and Owners Association.

"Business goes to leased cabs first before coming to cars that are owned by drivers. Second, the 2016 aggregator license says that they have to fix the fare at Rs19.50 per kilometre, but they are charging Rs4, Rs6 and from the airport to anywhere in the city they charge just Rs450," he said.