Riding the trough

- March 2, 2023
| By : Muhammad Tahir |

State government’s decision to ban bike taxi services has left thousands of riders fretting over their future

Photo: Getty

Delhi Transport Department’s public notice on February 20, asking ride-hailing platforms Ola, Uber and Rapido to stop their bike taxi services has threatened to put thousands of bike riders out of work.

While these riders are still operating secretly as they have no other option to make a living, there is palpable fear of an uncertain future among them.

“After this decision [of the Delhi Transport Department], I am afraid of going out and accepting a ride. Now we ride secretly, go out early in the morning at 4-5 am and come back before 8-9 am, when police checking starts on the roads. We do the same in the evening, avoiding timings when police are alert,” says Sudhanshu Kumar, one of thousands of bike riders facing potential work loss.

The Delhi Transport Department’s public notice states, “It has been brought to notice that two-wheelers having non-transport registration mark are being used to carry passengers on hire, which is a purely commercial operation and a violation of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988.”

Sudhanshu, who belongs to Odisha, has been living in Noida for the last 20 years with his family.

Sudhanshu Kumar

“I have been riding a bike taxi for the last three years and earning well. But now there is always a fear of a challan (fine) while I am riding. I am being very cautious while going out on duty,” he explains.

Sudhanshu says that it is a challenge operating on roads. They have to switch off the maps which help them navigate Delhi’s roads. Besides, they have to tell the customers beforehand to lie in case of police checking.

“During the rides nowadays, we switch off the map often, and if the traffic cops stop us for checking, we call customers our relatives or friends,” he explains.

A single fine can hurt them hard, setting them back by a few days.

“We may earn Rs 500 but can end being fined Rs 5,000 if we don’t act carefully. Isi tarah kar rahe hain sir, roji roti to band nahi kar sakte na (We surviving like this only, after all, we have to earn our daily bread.)”

The transport department has set very stringent fines for the offenders. The first violation will result in a penalty of Rs 5,000, while the second and subsequent offences will attract a fine of Rs 10,000 and imprisonment.

In addition to that, the driving licence of the driver will be impounded for at least three months.

“I am very tensed. It will affect my life adversely. I make around Rs 1,000 a day, some of which goes into paying for bike maintenance and petrol, but I manage to save Rs 700 [a day]. I also have to pay Rs 6,000 monthly for my son’s school fees and have to manage household expenses.”

The 37-year-old explains the economics and says that despite the cab aggregators charging 20-30% from them, they manage to take home a decent amount.

“I registered with Uber, Ola, and Rapido in 2019. In a bike taxi, we charge Rs 6 per kilometre till the initial five kilometres. After that, the charge increases to Rs 7 till 10 km. Beyond 10 km, it increases to Rs 10 per km. The company charges 20-30% of the amount we get from a ride. Despite that, if we work for 10-12 hours, we end up earning Rs 1000 a day easily and save around Rs 700,” he explains.

The Noida resident says that unemployment caused by the transport department’s order may lead to hostile future.

“After this decision, there could be a rise in cases of robbery and other anti-social activities. There is a reason why I feel this will happen. I have lived in Noida for 20-25 years. Cases of snatching and robbery were decreasing here due to this job option, because unemployed locals were turning to this job to earn their livelihood. But after the ban, we could see more cases of robbery and snatching,” he observes.

The Odisha-born bike rider says that the government needs to be proactive and empathetic towards the riders. He wants the government to take swift action to ensure that the riders aren’t left in the lurch.

“I want to request the government to solve the matter early. If they want us to have commercial number plates or want to impose a new tax or something else, do it early. Bhale do rupaiy kam milein but kaam band nahi hona chahiye bas (Doesn’t matter if we get tad lesser that what we earn but our work shouldn’t stop),” he says.

Sudhanshu is not the only one worried.

Manoj Kumar is concerned about how he will pay equated monthly instalment (EMI) for his new bike.

Manoj Kumar

“I purchased a new bike for bike taxi service on instalment two months ago. I thought I would be able to pay the EMI easily because I was earning well as a bike taxi rider. But now that the bike taxis have been banned, I am concerned about how I will pay the EMI. Pay kar bhi paunga ya nahi (Will I be able to pay or not).”

“For the last two and half years I have worked as a bike taxi rider and accepted rides all over the NCR. This was a very suitable job, especially for someone like me without much skills. I am a full-time rider and have been working for around 12-15 hours a day. This is my only source of livelihood. I save around Rs 1200-1300 per day after taking out petrol and maintenance expenses. Now my income has fallen by 70%. Ab to bas mauke wali baat hai ki koi ride mil jaaye (We have to be lucky to get rides),” he says.

“I am afraid to go out and accept a ride, because the fine is also very high. Customers also were happy with the bike taxis as they were cheaper than cabs and would drop them at their doorstep.”

Manoj, who lives with his family in Saket said, “In case the ban is not revoked, I will have to search for a job in a company, which will pay me around Rs 12,000-15,000 per month. I can’t get a high-paying job since I am not well educated. So, how will I survive in Delhi on Rs 15,000!”

Another rider, Vishwanath, narrates a similar story. He belongs to Agra, Uttar Pradesh and was employed with Paytm before becoming a full-time rider in NCR.


He tells Patriot, “I was working in the private sector — in Paytm payment bank — earlier. I had no technical degree, so the company paid only around Rs 10-15,000 to me. I love to ride bikes, so a friend in my office suggested that I should pursue this. I first registered with Rapido in February 2019 and worked for only one or two months with just one or two bookings a day after my office as part-time work. My first customer happened to be my company’s manager. I made around Rs 15,000 per month from this job easily.”

The 33-year-old explains his journey to becoming a bike taxi rider, “During lockdown, I went to my village and worked from home. When I returned, I felt pressure from the company. So, I planned to leave the job and come into this field full time because I was earning well even with part-time work. Also, there was less pressure. From September 2020, I started riding bike taxis full time. I think a rider can easily save Rs 500 with 7-8 hours of work. The maximum I have earned in a day is Rs 2,100.”

But Vishwanath faces uncertainty like most of his colleagues.

He says, “But now, mujhe dar lag raha hai. Ye aisi cheez hai, jo aapko na jeene deta hai or na marne (I am scared. Fear is something that doesn’t allow you to live or die). Due to fear of challan, confiscation of bike, I am unable to work properly. For the last 3 days, I have been living in fear and riding only in Noida while earlier I would accept rides from Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, and Faridabad in the NCR.”

According to an estimate, close to 20 lakh trips are made across ridesharing platforms every month in Delhi alone.

“I think some transport, auto unions have pressured the government into banning this service. Some union members are trying to trap bike riders too. They book a bike taxi and when the rider goes for the pick-up, they hand him over to the police. The government should have at least given a cushion of around a month to all riders before imposing the ban,” Vishwanath reasons.

“Some people are raising the issue of women’s security in bike taxi service. I want to say that only two or three cases of eve-teasing have been reported in bike taxi service. A cab is more dangerous than a bike taxi. If you check the data, you will find that these types of incidents generally happen in cabs,” Vishwanath concluded.

Chandan Kumar Rout lives with his two children and wife in Noida sector-73.

Chandan Kumar Rout

“I have been registered with Uber, Ola and Rapido for the last three years and work part-time as a bike taxi driver. I work in a private company during the day but as a bike taxi rider at night — from 10:30 pm to 3 am. I work full time on Saturday and Sunday,” says Rout.

“It supports my livelihood. Earlier, I would make around Rs 1,000 a day from this but now my earnings have suffered badly,” he explains.

The 43-year-old, who hails from Orissa, adds, “I accept rides from Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad but for the last one week I have been operating in Noida only. I am not accepting rides to Delhi out of fear of a challan. There is heavy risk involved in going to Delhi. Some riders are venturing to Delhi but only at their own risk.”

The move will also affect many customers that rely on two-wheelers via Ola, Uber, and Rapido amid surging fares of cabs.

“After the ban, not only us but our customers are also facing problems, because people travel from Noida to Delhi a lot. Many customers who travelled from Noida to Delhi called me and shared their problems. A taxi will charge around Rs 400 while a bike taxi’s charge will be around Rs 200 for the same distance,” Rout concluded.

Like Rout, Ashish Tiwari is also riding bike taxis as part-time job to supplement his income.

He works in a private company but accepts rides on the route of his office and home.

“I accept rides that fall on my route from office to my room, and earn Rs 100-200 a day. That takes care of my petrol and other minor expenses,” he adds.

Mekap Das, who hails from Odisha, has been riding bike taxi for the last one year.

“I earn Rs 25,000 – after deducting all my expenses — through bike riding. I keep Rs 5,000 with myself and send Rs 20,000 to my family in Puri,” he says.

“But now I face uncertainty as there is no alternative for me to make a living. I am operating secretly and I feel that over the next 10-12 days even that might not be possible,” he says.

Patriot also visited the Rapido company office in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar. Rapido’s city head refused to talk and make any comment about this decision.