COVID-19 in Mumbai: Taxi, auto-rickshaw drivers fleeing city under fear of another lockdown

With the announcement of night curfew across the state, the fear of yet another lockdown has once again spooked the blue-collared workforce such as taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers.

Many of the drivers are fleeing Mumbai, say the drivers' unions, and the number of taxis and autorickshaws on the roads are also dropping. Likewise, the number of aggregator cabs has also dropped, not just for this reason but also due to the fact that they are demanding a hike in fares.

The Free Press Journal had earlier reported how trains to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are running full in the past few days. The number of black and yellow cabs on the road is around 20,000 though the total number of registered ones is around 36,000 taxis. Likewise, of the 2.50 lakh autos registered, there are around 1.50 lakh or so that are on road. The unions expect these numbers to drop further as drivers are going back to their native homes.

“The number of taxis on the road has come down to 15,000 or so. Many of our drivers have or are returning to their hometowns over fear of another lockdown,” said AL Quadros, senior trade union leader. The number of COVID-19 cases in Mumbai and Maharashtra are on a rise and people especially the labourers and financially backward classes still remember what happened last year when lockdown was first announced. And so, people are leaving the city as a preventive measure.

There were close to 1.50 lakh drivers riding black and yellow taxis of which currently it has dropped by 50 percent and is expected to drop further in days to come. This would ideally mean that taxis on road would decrease too thus causing inconvenience to daily commuters. The unions claim that the majority of the drivers already have their families in their villages and towns.

Similarly there could be dearth in the number of auto rickshaws as well. There are close to 4 lakh auto drivers in the pre-COVID times. This number, according to the unions, has dropped by 30 percent and in the coming days is expected to come down further.

“This is a wedding season and so many of the drivers who hail from northern states, are returning home. Plus the fear of a growing number of COVID cases is making them jittery as well,” said Thampy Kurien, auto rickshaw union leader.

The aggregator cab drivers representing Uber and Ola have been going on protest on-and-off for the past few days. They have been demanding a fare hike though there is no fixed tariff schedule either approved by the aggregator companies or the state government. The unions representing these aggregator cab drivers claim that these drivers are burdened by the financial crises owing to repayment of loans owed to financial institutions. With COVID-19 cases resurfacing, the unions claim that this has made the drivers anxious and are leaving the city as well.

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