That Bombay taxi strike though

I’ve seen a couple of transportation strikes. I lived through the MTA strike that cold December in high school when I had to the take the LIRR and my dad had to pick me up from Manhattan, two-and-a-half hours away from our eastern Queens home. Half of us didn’t show up since Stuyvesant is a commuter school with students flocking from all five boroughs. It was a big pajama party; many teachers played movies in class.

Fast forward 10 years. Today, we live in a world with Uber, Ola. So when all of Bombay’s black-and-yellows (kaali peelis) strike, it’s different. It’s quiet. Radio Mirchi is currently promoting a “Don’t Be Horny” campaign that urges drivers to refrain from blowing their horns. Today’s strike confirmed that we owe much of the noise pollution Mumbaikars suffer through to our taxi drivers.

On Monday, when the kali peelis first went on strike — on a monsoon day with pouring rain. Uber fares were 5x normal, with a minimum of Rs 750 (~$11.90). (The usual base is Rs 70, or ~$1.10.) Customers were furious.

So on day 2 of the strike today, two days after the first on Monday, Uber eliminated surge pricing.

So what happens when demand is still high, there is no surge, and people are prepared?

Surprisingly, the experience is not too unpleasant. I did have to keep my Uber app open for 10–15 minutes and fastest-fingers-first grab an Uber. And yes, the car took 20+ min to arrive. But instead of paying anything absurd, I paid a very normal Rs 280. Thank you, Uber. Finally.

(On why I couldn’t just take a train: morning commutes in Bombay are tough. Unlike NYC, train stops don’t easily go from point A to point B and commutes can involve a mix of train, auto rickshaws, and cabs anyway. Auto rickshaws are on strike today, too.)

What surprised me more is the why. Why are these taxi drivers striking? FirstPost reports that taxi drivers are unhappy losing market share to Uber and Ola drivers, especially on the longer distance rides they prefer. But my Uber driver had a different story, or more of an additional lens. “They want 15 lakhs,” he said. Kaali peeli drivers want the taxi authority to buy back their cars and then work for Uber/Ola with lower capital investments.

Even if this weren’t true, what does our new transportation world imply for Uber and Ola? Can they capture the taxi cab driver population in the cities in which they operate? Are taxi authorities headed for extinction?

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