Monday, 30th October 2017

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App-cab drivers in Calcutta go on the rampage over service

At least 150 app-cab drivers stopped cars, some rushing right in front to force the drivers to slam the brakes, as cops looked on

By Kinsuk Basu in Calcutta
  • Published 28.12.18, 4:27 AM
  • Updated 28.12.18, 4:27 AM
  • 2 mins read
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A protester kicks on the door of an app cab while another bangs on the car near the Ruby crossing on Thursday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

An Uber driver held on to the steering as a man kicked on the door and another banged on the car on the airport-bound flank of the Bypass on Thursday afternoon.

The driver appeared scared as he slowly moved ahead without stopping and some men kept banging on the vehicle.

Another from the group hurled a stone at the next app cab. The passenger seated in the rear raised his hand to shield himself as the stone missed the window and landed on the cab’s boot.

At least 150 app-cab drivers continued stopping cars, some rushing right in front to force the drivers to slam the brakes, as a handful of cops looked on.

The situation came under control after officers arrived with reinforcements.

Six app-cab drivers were arrested.

“We were asked to step out, right in the middle of the road,” a man headed to Belur from Garia with his wife and son said.

“I saw several people trying to stop app cabs. It seemed a gang of men were out on a mission. I felt so terrorised... I got off without arguing with them,” he said.

Some passengers who were asked to step out of cabs showed a piece of red cloth to the men, saying there was a medical emergency.

Some of those who were forced to get off cabs kept moving along the Bypass in the hope of finding yellow taxis. But even those were unavailable.

The same protester in front of another cab.
The same protester in front of another cab. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

The government held a meeting with app-cab aggregators, representatives of the online cab operators guild and Calcutta police at the Kasba office of the public vehicles department before the rampage on the Bypass started.

Representatives of Ola were present at the meeting but none from Uber showed up. The government announced another meeting on January 10 after the one in Kasba ended.

Lalbazar is drawing up a deployment plan across the city to tackle any attempt to stop app-cab drivers and pull out passengers, many in the police top brass said.

“Uber has the audacity to stay away from the meeting. It’s unfortunate. This is a festive time and we have appealed to our members to stay away from going on strikes even though the grievances remain unaddressed,” Indranil Banerjee of the West Bengal Online Cab-Operators Guild said, minutes after stepping out of the meeting at Kasba.

Uber later regretted its absence. “We deeply regret not being present at the meeting, but we were forced to reallocate our resources because of disruptions caused by a small group of individuals,” the company spokesperson said in a message to Metro.

Most drivers said they would find themselves off the app platform for no specified reason. Many alleged they were “thrown off the platform just when they were about to complete their weekly quota”. This meant losing out on incentives.

Ola and Uber officials said driver-partners were taken off only after specific complaints from passengers.

“We even have a concept of counselling drivers so that they don’t end up misbehaving with customers again,” an Uber official said.

“Let there be a system of hearing out the passenger and the driver,” a driver said.

A few said the rate offered for every kilometre by the aggregators was less than what taxi drivers earned.

Speaking about returns, an Ola official said driver partners were clearly told how much they would earn from every trip and the company’s existing policy. “It is spelt out in clear terms to driver partners.”