The newly introduced low-fare option, alleged non-revision of fares for five years, and older cars being overlooked for newer ones have led to much consternation among drivers who attached to prominent online taxi aggregator firms, who have been severely hit by the pandemic-induced fall in patronage.
“Most of us were eking out a hand-to-mouth existence due to the pandemic situation, coupled with pressure from banks and finance companies to clear loan dues, when a prominent online firm introduced the ‘low-fare’ option, whereby drivers could opt to operate at lower than the rock-bottom fare that was already in vogue. It is simply not possible for most drivers to operate at the lowered fares, especially so since fuel price has skyrocketed and is going up almost every other day,” said Shajimon Thomas, who had attached his car to an online firm.
“The low-fare option in turn came with the commission that the firm levied increasing from 26% to 40%. The firm introduced this under the garb of helping drivers get return trips from suburbs. This is in addition to the base fare for many trips being reduced from ₹150 to ₹118 and levying of charges on drivers under different heads. Online firms know that most drivers do not have another option, since they are caught between the commitment to repay vehicle loans and the low resale value of cars post-COVID,” he added.
This has driven a wedge between drivers of diesel / petrol cars and those who operate CNG cars, since only the latter could afford to operate under the ‘low-fare’ option without incurring loss. Drivers are unable to complain to higher-ups of firms, since offices of online firms in Kerala have been closed, while customer service is manned by trainees, it is learnt.
Online Taxi Drivers’ Union president T.R.S. Kumar said online taxi drivers were staring at a precarious situation. “Many have opted for online food delivery. That online taxi firms are not keen on cars that are older than five years has added to their woes,” he added.
In such a circumstance, many drivers are flocking to the Yatri app which was launched jointly by the Kerala Metropolitan Transport Authority (KMTA) and Beckn Foundation. Drivers need not pay commission to the promoters of the app. A pilot initiative is under way, while its formal launch is slated for July 23 by Minister for Transport Antony Raju.
“Over 1,000 car drivers, mostly members of five trade unions, have attached with the new app in Kochi city. In this, all cars operate as per government-fixed tariff, while there is no surge fare, in which online firms used to levy higher fare during peak hours. In addition, discounts are on the anvil,” an official associated with the initiative said.
This and other mobility apps, including those of the Kochi metro, are slated to come under a single app as part of the Kochi Open Mobility Network (KOMN), said to be a first-of-its-kind initiative, the official added.