Rise in fuel prices: taxi associations in Hyd, other cities decide to charge for air conditioning

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Private taxi driver associations have introduced additional charges for the use of air conditioners in a pilot scheme in Kolkata, Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad.

On a sweltering hot day, when Sohini Das, a private employee from Kolkata, boarded a taxi from Tangra to Sector 5, she was surprised. The driver informed her that she would have to pay an extra 30% to have the air conditioner turned on. Shocked and sweating profusely, Sohini tried to reason by saying that the taxi aggregator’s rules state that the price charged includes air conditioning charges. The driver simply responded by saying, “It’s the decision of our association.”

Sohini, who usually pays around Rs 180-220 for her trip, says she has already paid a higher amount than usual these days. “I am already charged around Rs 350 for my trip which would usually cost me around Rs 180-220. Why would I be willing to pay extra to turn on the AC? I might as well use the yellow ambassador taxis that run without air conditioning,” Sohini told TNM.

Over the past few days, several photos of signs advertising an extra charge to turn on the air conditioning inside cabins have been widely shared on social media. This shocked netizens and many asked if it was even legal. Although most of the cases are from Kolkata and Delhi, in Hyderabad too, around 50 taxis are taking part in the “pilot project” taken up by taxi associations. Drivers blame rising fuel prices for deciding to charge extra to turn on the air conditioning during journeys.

On March 25, Aditi Singh, a journalist, took to Twitter to share her experience of being charged extra to turn on the air conditioning in a taxi.

Uber, who was tagged in the post, asked Aditi to share his email ID and other details and promised to follow up on the issue.

Speaking to TNM, Shaik Salauddin, National General Secretary of the Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT), said that this model has been implemented on the basis of a pilot project in a few states. “In Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata and Hyderabad, we have implemented this as a pilot project. We have a meeting on Monday, March 26 to decide if taxi drivers in all states should implement this.

“With rising fuel prices, it becomes very difficult for taxi drivers. Taxi aggregators do not increase the fare paid to taxi drivers. That is why we have decided to charge extra for using air conditioner in taxis,” explained Salauddin who is also the founding chairman of the Telangana State Gig and Platform Workers Union (TDPWU).

According to the Telangana State Taxi & Drivers Joint Action Committee, an umbrella organization that started this campaign in Telangana, taxi drivers currently only receive around Rs 12 on average per km. The association says these fares have not increased since 2012. “The Karnataka government has set the fare at Rs 18 per km for taxis and in Telangana the fare per km has been set at Rs 17 for prepaid taxis by the state government. The state government has issued ordinances in this regard, however, this has not been implemented by the taxi aggregators. The price needs to be increased to Rs 17-20 per km for us to bear the increased fuel expenses. This price that has been fixed must be implemented in all sectors like IT and also by private taxi operators like Ola and Uber, etc. The ordinances regarding the minimum price per km are only on paper and have not yet been implemented anywhere,” explained Salauddin. Nationwide, IFAT has launched this additional AC billing campaign.

In Hyderabad, only about fifty drivers have set up the bonus for air conditioning. According to the association, the pilot project consists of evaluating the reaction of passengers. In the hottest places like Hyderabad and Delhi, it is difficult to deny air conditioning to passengers during the peak summer months. This is the reason why it was implemented on a pilot basis.

A poster pasted inside a taxi in Hyderabad

Several customers have stated that they are willing to pay higher rates, but since the app mentioned a price, they are adamant that they will only pay the price of the app. “There are several customers who are empathetic to our situation. They agree to pay a premium for the CA. There are several others who do not accept to pay as well. But many say that if the app shows a higher price, they are ready to pay the same price,” Salauddin said.

The association claims that private taxis in Telangana do not have meters unlike taxis in several other cities. This makes taxi drivers dependent on taxi aggregators for business. The association demanded that the government introduce meters in all taxis so that the minimum fares already set by the government can be applied. The association believes that the introduction of meters in taxis will help reduce the monopoly of taxi aggregators.

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