Dissent is brewing among a section of drivers at Hyderabad airport ever since the police decided to digitise payments.

Going cashless is driving us into debt allege pre-paid taxi drivers at Hyd airportImage for representation
news Transport Sunday, May 20, 2018 - 16:05

"I haven't gotten paid properly for more than a month now. Since you have boarded my cab on a Friday evening, I may or may not get this full amount only by Monday evening," laments Mohammed*, as he looks at a receipt.

"By the time GST and other fees for digital transfers get cut, the money I make for 10 trips is only equivalent to the money I made for 8 trips earlier," he adds.

There is dissent brewing among a section of drivers at Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA), who run pre-paid taxis, ever since the Shamshabad Traffic Police's decision to 'digitise' the payment process. 

Drivers allege that the Hyderabad Traffic Police has been 'stealing' their money, ever since a new system was put into place, around 40 days ago. 

Earlier, customers had to line up at the police counter at the airport, take a receipt, and pay the cab drivers the fixed amount once they reach their destination. 

However, as many people sought to pay with their cards, the police personnel manning the booth now take the payment whether by cash or card and transfer it to the driver's account later based on the receipts.

"We don't know how to run our families because the payments are late and never made in full. We also have to make timely payments to financers through whom we buy the car. They harass us a lot if we fail to do so," says Mohammed. 

"They insist that the car has to be new and also be registered under the driver's name, or they would not let us operate the vehicle at the airport. For example, the widow of a driver who recently died has been trying to change the registration to her name and make another family member drive the car, which the officials are not accepting. They have had no source of revenue for 7 months now due to this," he adds.

There are roughly 179 such pre-paid taxi vehicles, with over 500 families dependent on the drivers, who drive the cars in two shifts.   

While TNM spoke to several cab drivers, all of them wished to remain anonymous, stating that they feared a backlash from the Traffic ACP, RGI Airport Division, for speaking up.

Rising debt

The drivers allege that as per a Government Order (GO), they are not allowed to use second-hand vehicles and only must get new vehicles to register themselves at the counter.

"However, the traffic police take months to verify the documents during which time we can't drive the vehicle around and also can't repay our EMI. The drivers' union is also not very helpful as we suspect that they are colluding with the Traffic ACP," another driver said on the condition of anonymity. 

Responding to the allegations, Cyberabad DCP (Traffic) SM Vijay Kumar dismissed any claims of collusion and said that the verification is done in a matter of days.  

Speaking to TNM, the DCP said that he would enquire into the alleged delay in payments to the drivers.

"As far as moving to the card was concerned, we did that as there were many touts who were claiming to be prepaid taxi drivers, among several other reasons,” he said.

“The GO itself states that no vehicle can be older than 8 years and despite that, we try our best to be considerate to them,” he added.

Shamshad*, a long-time driver, has a tragic tale to tell. 

"My sister is under tremendous amounts of pain as she is suffering from fourth-stage cancer. My mother is blind due to old age and my father is dead. I'm the sole breadwinner for my family and despite working long hours, I have to see them suffer every single day," he says. 

"Earlier, I would get cash in a matter of minutes after dropping the customer, but now I have to beg for my own hard-earned money," he adds. 

However, Ayaz from the Hyderabad Airport Prepaid Taxi Owners and Drivers Association said that they knew of no such driver, and the police and drivers were working in harmony.

“The police have been friendly to us and are openly listening to our grievances. Going cashless has nothing to do with them. Many customers were wanting to pay by card, due to which the system was implemented,” he said.   

“There is no delay in payments and we have passbooks to show that all the money is being transferred on time. If there are any other grievances, then we are here to talk to them and find a solution,” he added.

Ayaz also said that the association holds a general body meeting every month where drivers could air their problems.

Some cab drivers also lament that ATMs in the city often run dry and they have great difficulty getting their hands on cash. 

"We can swipe cards for diesel, but for most other things, we need to withdraw cash. Before we know it, we have crossed the stipulated limit and we are charged extra for each withdrawal," says Akbar*, another cab driver.

Redressal mechanism

The drivers allege that they have no one to complain to, as they fear the ACP.

"We are scared to approach him," says one driver.

"There have been days where I didn't have money for diesel and parking at the airport, so I just had to leave the car for 2 to 3 days till I got my money. Even though we don't get the full amount at once, we can't question them," says Shamshad.

"Recently, after we pursued the state government repeatedly, they increased the rates of the pre-paid taxis per km. However, since this latest scheme was brought in, now we are facing difficulties again," Mohammed adds.

They also say that their vehicles are suspended or barred from entering the airport for weeks for every small violation, which only drives them into deeper debt.

The DCP meanwhile said that the drivers were always welcome to contact him for any complaints.  

 

*Names changed on request

 

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