With over 30,000 Ola and Uber drivers going on strike in Chennai on Tuesday, residents saw their cab prices surge up to three times the usual amount.
Close to 1000 drivers took to the roads in Chepauk, protesting against their agencies reducing their incentives and their irregular incomes.
Despite this, however, Uber told TNM that the strike does not represent the sentiment of a majority of its drivers.
According to reports, the Tamil Nadu Call Taxi Owners and Drivers Association (TNCTODA) called for the strike after three cab drivers in the city allegedly committed suicide due to mounting debts. The Association accused the aggregators of paying drivers only Rs 6.50/km for their rides and taking a commission of 27% for themselves. In addition to this, they claimed that their earnings are not enough to sustain themselves and the owners of the cars.
Uber India dismissed the claim. In a written reply to TNM's question, they said, "Uber maintains complete transparency while paying driver earnings and charges a fixed standard service fee of 20% for all rides on our platform in India, irrespective of the city or the type of vehicle chosen by the rider."
When asked about the drivers' demand for regular incomes, the aggregator said that being an Uber driver is very different from being employed as a shop assistant. "Earnings are not one-size fits all. Individual driver earnings vary widely and individual driver behaviour – where, when and how much or little drivers choose to drive – also vary widely, which makes averages difficult. Currently, 80% of drivers across India, who are online for more than six hours a day, make between ₹1,500 and ₹2,500 net, after Uber’s service fee. Driver partners using the Uber app place real value on flexibility, and consistently tell us this has historically been, and continues to be today, one of the most attractive aspects of driving using the Uber app," the company said.
Drivers however alleged that they have to work for over 10 hours to make Rs 2000 in a day.
"We will probably get that amount if we start working at six in the morning and work till midnight," claimed Anbalagan, General Secretary, Greater Chennai Motor Vehicle workers Association. "In the Rs 2000, we pay Rs 540 as commission and Rs 1000 for fuel. The rest has to be shared between the driver and the owner of the car," he added.
Why do they work such long hours to earn this amount?
"That is because these aggregators give preference to their cars first. Drivers who come in with rented cars are hardly booked for any rides," he alleged.
Uber made it clear, nonetheless, that the disruption caused does not reflect what most drivers want. "A small numbers of individuals, who do not represent the majority of the driver community, have been preventing drivers who want to work from doing so. Driver partners are striving to keep the city moving. Many of them have reached out to Uber, via the driver hotline, reporting incidents of disruption," says Uber.
"If that is the case, then why were the cab rides so expensive today? We are the majority that is being exploited," said Anbalagan.
Ola-Uber driver association President Tanveer Pashasaid that the larger problem should be accounted for. "When the aggregators first came to India, they gave drivers a lot of incentives," he said. "Yes, we can't expect that anymore. But the real problem is that they have increased the fleet of cars so much so that the supply is larger than the demand. As a result, drivers are suffering.”