Drivers on strike waylay app cabs
App cab drivers protesting company payment policies on Tuesday stopped the cars of peers who hadn’t joined their strike and forced their passengers off in various parts of Calcutta, police and the app cab drivers’ union said.
Howrah station, Esplanade, Park Circus, Behala and the airport were among places where many passengers were forced off their cabs midway during their journey, on a day families had hit the streets to celebrate Christmas.
The strike had apparently been decided on Monday night, though a member of the union said it had asked the drivers not to strike on Christmas Day.
An app cab driver complained that agitating peers had smashed his windscreen in Shyambazar, while another said the protesters had snatched his mobile phone at Golpark.
Uber and Ola drivers in Calcutta have earlier too agitated for higher payment for trips, but Tuesday was the first time they stopped their fellow drivers and forced their passengers off.
The trouble started in the morning outside Howrah station when some app cab operators found the parking lot meant for them locked — allegedly the handiwork of the strike supporters. Many drivers had to park outside and pay the stipulated fee of Rs 71, which they passed on to the passengers.
In Park Circus, officers from Beniapukur police station intervened. “A few young men began forcing out app cab passengers on Suhrawardy Avenue near Park Circus Seven Point in the morning,” an officer said. “Officers reached the spot immediately. We brought these youths to the police station. They told us they had some issues with the app-cab-operating firms.”
As word spread, several app cab drivers decided to stay off the platform, lengthening the waiting time and raising fares.
A Kasba-to-Chandni-Chowk ride in the afternoon showed a fare of Rs 420 against the usual Rs 220-250, while a Dunlop-Haltu morning trip cost Rs 700 instead of Rs 450-500. By evening, as demand rose further, some passengers had to pay 2.5 times the usual fare.
“A trip from Bowbazar to Park Street in the evening cost Rs 160 on Uber. That’s around Rs 80 a kilometre,” said Ananda Sadhukhan, who had come from Tikiapara with his family.
Indranil Banerjee of the West Bengal Cab Operators Guild said a delegation had visited Uber’s Sector V office on Monday “to discuss some issues” but were “pushed out by the police”, prompting some members to decide on a strike.
“We asked our members not to cause any disruption on Christmas Day,” he told The Telegraph.
App cab operators alleged they now received only a part of the extra amount during surge pricing instead of the full amount, as earlier.
“We regret the disruption caused to some of the riders and our driver-partners due to a small group of individuals,” an Uber spokesperson said.
Ola officials had not commented or replied to an email sent by this newspaper till late evening.