They prepare to ply their trade once restrictions ease, but say it will be months before they recover losses
A few days ago, taxi driver Kumar R., a resident of Banashankari, received ₹3,000 as COVID-19 relief from the State government. He used that money to buy the rations for his family. Mr. Kumar is among the one lakh taxi and auto drivers who have received the second round of financial aid.
Transport Commissioner N. Shivakumar told The Hindu that around 2.15 lakh drivers applied for aid. “One lakh applicants have received the money through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) so far,” he said. The Transport Department has estimated that close to 3 lakh drivers may apply.
The money, while providing some relief, will not help recover the losses drivers have incurred. Mr. Kumar, who has been driving a taxi for over a decade, has not earned an income since the lockdown in April. He signed up with a food delivery platform in the hope that it would help him meet some of his mounting expenses, but left as he couldn’t earn enough to make ends meet. “There was too much competition as many unemployed people had joined the platform. My earnings were not good,” said Mr. Kumar, adding that he has not been able to pay rent for the past few months.
Ready to drive, but will there be passengers?
The State government on Friday had announced that auto and taxis will be allowed to ply with a maximum of two passengers. But drivers say that even with the relaxations, it will take them months to recover their losses.
Another major concern is the rising price of fuel. “Diesel prices have already crossed ₹90 per litre. The cost involved in running a tax is very high and we may not get good bookings for the next five to six months. We will get bookings only when the tourism sector improves and companies ask employees to come back to office,” said Rajeev, a taxi driver.
Drivers have been demanding that the government instruct banks and private lenders not to force them to pay EMIs for vehicle loans for at least three to four months. “Without any income source, the drivers are not in a position to repay the loans. Last year, when the lockdown was relaxed, within a few days, private financiers started harassing auto drivers demanding repayment of loans. Drivers will face the same problems this time too, unless the government intervenes,” said K. Somashekar of Namma Chalakara Trade Union.