An order for our roadies?

Who is that one person who is non-negotiable in our everyday lives? Is there someone whom we cannot avoid irrespective of our socio-economic standing. Who is that everyday man integral to our lives.

Let me offer a clue. He is someone whom we love to hate. He is part of collective angst, rant almost on a everyday basis. Yet he is indispensable to our lives.

He is the ubiquitous Indian driver!

Evident from many Facebook posts one knows that each of us have our own favourite driver tale.  As someone who cannot drive to save my life, I am at awe with driving. It looks magical to me when people drive in autopilot mode multitasking.

Driving to me has many aspects to it that is hard to dismiss. It is not just a skill, it can be a profession, it is a business and we know now it can be huge industry as well. I don’t have the necessary statistics to back up but I would underscore driving as a profession is practiced by an overwhelming population. Perhaps in terms of people involved it may come next to agriculture in providing employment.

Drivers do come in many avatars from your neighbourhood rickshawallahs, cabbies and the drivers from transport corporations and those who are employed as drivers in various organisations.

But my primary focus would be those who are part of the large unorganized sector driving cabs/rickshaws in your neighbourhood. This still accounts for employment in large numbers. For many individuals driving gives them a certain escape from poverty and first legitimate opportunity to earn with dignity. As a skill, it is easy and cost effective to acquire. And there is an ease of getting employed with the ever increasing demand.

It is not uncommon to hear stories or ‘rags to riches’ about drivers becoming fleet owners putting them on a path towards entrepreneurship and greater prosperity.

While the prospect of owning a car or becoming a fleet owner loom, their everyday lives are laden with challenges given the difficulties of the environment they operate in. In metros, many are likely to immigrants without proper documentation and shoddy accommodation, tussle for permits given the high demand, subject of road rage, unruly passengers, poor roads, fluctuating demand, rising fuel prices etc. They must survive these persistent challenges to etch out a living and focus on prospering or getting a head in their lives.  All these make him extremely vulnerable in the eyes of those who enforce law and thereby a potential target for bribes too.

Besides these challenges they are subject of intense ridicule in the larger society given their attitude to passengers viz. fleecing on fares, refusals etc. The worst being the cases of violence against women and the resultant image of cab drivers among the general public in the metro cities.

With increasing urbanisation there would be a constant demand for public transport and therefore the need for these ‘drivers’ would only go up. One on hand this provides a great opportunity for many to lift themselves from poverty and aspire for a better life. However, I feel there is a lack of a regulative framework which could govern the interests of this segment. While there are unions that are spread in cities, they are confined to specific geographies and are not spread across the country. And most instances they come to the fore only when it comes to fare hikes and nothing else. There hasn’t been a voice to address their welfare more holistically.

Given the fact that this sector employs in massive numbers it is high time the government regulates and brings in a national framework to manage their welfare. I could think of wide ranging areas which could bring in betterment to their lives right from education, health, safety and financials etc.

While these are not comprehensive, I could think of some of the areas where help could come in,

  1. A start would be to a national registry to include anyone with commercial vehicle license and ensure that his details are linked to Aadhar and voter ID. This will ensure that their ID is captured and the details are shared before they seek to be self- employed. This implies commercial license has to be distinct (Not sure if it exists already)
  2. The biggest advantage is this is a segment that manages cash flows daily and anybody who can support them are likely to reap huge dividends. If properly done one could look at creating a collective corpus (on a national level) that is self-sustaining and can help them with their life and livelihood challenges.
  3. Given the high risks governing their jobs, it is important to see if government can deduct a small subset of their earnings and provide them insurance against routine ailments and severe conditions that require hospitalisation. They could look at tie-ups with CGHS scheme hospitals, dispensaries to provide the necessary care
  4. One could also look at support system by forging tie-ups with automakers to provide vehicle loans. This could support them in them to become entrepreneurs and their endeavour to be independent. This could support those who are deemed not credit worthy. Besides they could look at measure to support them in routine repairs which is also substantial to many.
  5. Many are immigrants and without proper documentation struggle to get in to the banking system. Exclusive mobile banking, payment wallets could help them with their daily transaction needs, remittances and even saving and investment needs actively bringing them in the formal banking system.
  6. Savings schemes for kid’s education and dedicated plans for higher education could be done to ensure their aspirations for better education for their children could be met.
  7. Compulsive training in technology and deployment including GPS, biometrics, Aadhar linkage will be beneficial to passengers as well drivers in terms of safety and security. This can be ensured while they are applying for commercial license.
  8. Dedicated housing schemes that could look at a daily/weekly instalment modalities towards providing better housing amenities.
  9. Nationwide framework of tariffs taking in regional differences to ensure periodical upgradation of fares that is mutually agreeable (Passengers and drivers)

More importantly all the above thought would work if there is a nationwide or at least state-wide initiative to address them collectively. It is high time to address this as their numbers would only increase in the years to come and active regulation would ensure their lives are better.

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