One in five taxis is idle because drivers aren’t easy to come by. An old rule now being enforced is leaving both drivers and cab operators in difficulty
Bangalore, inching close to Delhi in vehicle density, is facing a dire shortage of drivers. This has forced taxi operators to pay more to drivers. Salaries have gone up from Rs 6,000 a month to Rs 12,000. Radhakrishna Holla, general secretary, Bangalore Tourist Taxi and Owner’s Association blames it on the central government. “The 1988 Motor Vehicle Act says drivers should have a minimum qualification to be eligible for a badge, and many of our drivers don’t have the qualification.
Earlier, the authorities used to be lenient with the badges, but now they have taken it seriously,” he says. One in five commercial vehicles (taxis) isn’t plying because of this new norm. Bangalore has 80,000 commercial vehicles, owned by 500 travel agencies. Tour operators are finding it difficult to pay their loan installments, says Holla, and the business is in crisis. Drivers in Bangalore come from the outlying parts—Ramanagara, Mandya, Nelamangala, and Hoskote.
They typically hail from agricultural families, or families plying small trades, and are not too keen on education. Many drivers have lost their jobs and returned to their villages. An eighth standard pass makes a driver eligible for a badge. The badge is given along with the licence. Ramesh Babu of Ramesh Tours and Travels answers, “We can claim insurance in case of an accident only if the driver has a badge.” Only drivers with the qualification remain in their jobs. On the one hand, the owners are forced to pay more to retain drivers, and on the other, hundreds are being rendered unemployed. As much as the owners want to employ drivers without a badge, they’re worried about the insurance aspect.
An Innova accident last year sounded the alarm bells for operators. “A driver had dropped a passenger to the airport. On his way back, he picked up a couple and a child. The taxi met with a terrible accident, and the child died. The couple survived in injuries. The company couldn’t claim any money as the driver didn’t have a badge. It had to pay up Rs 5 lakh,” Holla recalls. Ramesh Babu hasn’t sent away drivers without badges, though. “Educated people would want fancy jobs, and a driver’s job is taken up only by those without much education. Sometimes people earn more as drivers than at desk-bound jobs,” he says.
On average, a driver can earn up to Rs 15,000 a month, but earning can go up to Rs 25,000 if he works for an MNC, and Rs 30,000 a month if he’s driving his own vehicle. Drivers like Nagesh HR, who works for a leading cab operator, doesn’t have a badge till date. “If we had studied so much, why will we come into this profession? Won’t we find a good job in some corporate office?” asks Nagesh.
The shortage has hit even professionals who hire personal drivers N Sekar, vice president of Jagran Publications, has always had problems retaining his drivers. His last driver quit a year back and he wasn’t able to find a replacement for 10 months. “It’s so difficult to find a good driver. Since I move around a lot, it was very difficult for me to park my car,” he says. Sekar pays his new driver Rs 12,000 a month. Alok Kumar Nathur, country head (operations) for Super Saver Services, has had four drivers in just one year. He says, “They don’t stay however much we pay. It is really difficult.” He pays Rs 10,000 a month plus tips.
Taxi operators have requested the government to relax the rule for two years. “I met Ramalinga Reddy, the transport minister and made a request. Not just taxi drivers, but even BMTC drivers, are in trouble as the law applies for all the commercial vehicles,” he told Talk.