Bengaluru residents are likely to have a tough time hailing auto rickshaws on March 20, as 21 auto unions have decided to go on a strike demanding ban on bike taxis.
This is probably the first time in the recent past that nearly all auto unions in the city have joined hands to call for a one-day strike against bike taxis. The impact, however, remains to be seen. Moneycontrol spoke to auto union representatives who said much like in Maharashtra and New Delhi, they want bike taxis to be banned in Bengaluru.
Drivers will stage a march from KSR Bengaluru City railway station at 11am to the Chief Minister's office-residence, Krishna, on Kumarakrupa Road on March 20.
At present, both Rapido and Uber are running non-electric bike taxis in the city. Unions see state polls round the corner as an opportunity to crank up pressure on the government to ban bike taxis.
According to Raghu Narayana Gowda of Peace Auto, all auto unions will be participating in the March 20 strike. "Auto drivers are not getting rides during non-peak hours because there are more than 1 lakh bike taxi riders in the city. Our expenses like rent, food, auto LPG, insurance premium etc are rising but earnings are dropping. For instance, the price of auto LPG has gone up from Rs 32.51 a litre in May 2020 to Rs 68.5 a litre now. How are we going to survive?"
Drivers question why Karnataka is yet to ban bike taxis while many other states have already done so. “How can bike taxis which are being used for commercial purposes, operate with white-board number plates that are only for private use. Auto rickshaws fall under commercial vehicles so we need to renew fitness certificate, permit, emission certificate, meter calibration, insurance etc periodically. When other states can do away with bike-taxis, why not Karnataka?,” said BV Raghavendra of Autorickshaw Drivers Union (ARDU).
Some of the unions have even threatened to go as far as to boycott the upcoming polls. “If they don't ban bike taxis, we will boycott polls," Chethan MR of Bengaluru Auto Sene said.
Asked about complaints from passengers on auto drivers overcharging, G Narayanaswamy, president, Karnataka Chalakara Okkuta, said: “Most auto drivers ply by meter. White-board vehicles cannot run bike-taxis. It is illegal. The state government should stop this."
"There could be a shortage of autorickshaws in Bengaluru on March 20 due to the strike" said C Sampath, general secretary, Adarsh Auto Drivers' Union.
Rapido and Uber were unavailable for comment.
Transport minister B Sriramulu said he understands the issues faced by the auto drivers due to bike taxis and a decision will be taken before the elections. However, according to transport commissioner SN Siddaramappa, an instant decision doesn't look likely. “The matter related to bike taxis is still pending with the high court so we are not able to take any action"
Auto drivers at loggerheads with bike taxi firms
Auto and taxi drivers have been at loggerheads with bike taxis, claiming that the latter have been eating into their earnings. Bengaluru has around 2 lakh autorickshaws and commuters still struggle to find autos during peak hours both through apps or offline. Even if they find one, drivers are often accused of refusing to ply or quote inflated fares. On the other hand, bike-taxis are faster, cheaper and readily available, forcing many to rely on them for short-distance trips.
A video from last week which showed an auto driver smashing a Rapido bike taxi rider's helmet in Indiranagar had gone viral on social media. The rider (captain) who belongs to the north-east was threatened and abused violently by the auto driver.
E-bike taxi scheme yet to take-off
In July 2021, Karnataka Electric Bike Taxi Scheme-2021 was unveiled by the government to provide first and last-mile connectivity from metro, bus and railway stations. In December 2022, the transport department issued a bike-taxi permit to Wicked Ride Adventure Services Pvt Ltd, which runs Bounce. However, Bounce is yet to commence bike taxi operations.
Separately, Bengaluru-based startup Metroride applied for a bike-taxi permit at Jayanagar RTO but it's yet to be granted. Rapido has been operating non-electric bike-taxis in the city since 2016. The same year, Ola and Uber launched bike taxis too but were later forced to suspend services after the transport department took action against them for operating without the requisite licence. Though Ola relaunched bike-taxi services in 2019 but it was stopped after the department suspended the licence to operate cab services. In July 2022, Uber resumed its bike taxi services in Bengaluru.