CHENNAI: “I am yet to get much travel requests from the airport, railway station, star hotels and malls. If IT companies continue to encourage work-from-home for another year, the number of call taxis on roads will come down by half, in another three months,” says K Kannan, owner and driver of a call taxi.
It has been two months since the government allowed resumption of taxi services, post the lockdown. Yet, the demand for cab services continue to remain around 30 to 40 per cent, putting several thousands of drivers and their families in distress.
Kannan says there was a small surge in the bookings in the first week of November thanks to the Deepavali season. “However, it has now gone back to what it used to be during September. Apart from the fear of virus transmission, the travel pattern itself seems to have changed drastically,” he adds.
The poor patronage is being attributed to the closure of IT companies that had earlier contributed nearly 40 per cent to the business. Also sharing the blame are the restrictions imposed on hotels, beaches, theatres, etc. Around 45,000 call taxis ply in the city, of which about 32,000 are operated through cab aggregators such as Ola and Uber. The remaining run for other companies like NTL, Fast track or Friends.
The lockdown relaxations brought in some relief to these drivers, but they did not last long. “A driver now earns around Rs 1,000 to 1,200 a day, as against the Rs 3,000 to 3,500 before the lockdown. The average demand too has come down to 35 per cent,” says J Ramanujam, president of Thozhargal Car Ottunargal Amaippu Sara Thozhirsangam, adding that over 20,000 taxis may get phased out soon from the city, if the situation persists.
This was too much to bear for many of them, who had their monthly dues piling up, sometimes forcing them to leave the profession altogether. A week ago, about 10 call taxis were confiscated at Porur by a non-banking financial institution, citing that the drivers had failed pay to two installments.
“Although EMIs during the months of lockdown were not collected, the drivers weren’t able to save up to pay for the months that followed,” says P Anbazhagan, president of Tamil Nadu Call Taxi Drivers and Owners Association.