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Author: General Information on Mumbai Taxi

Study on the issue of taxi drivers, taxi owners and cab unions in Mumbai.

1. Taxi-Drivers versus Taxi-Owners.

Through the survey, it has become possible distinguish between taxi-drivers and taxi-owners. The ones with khaki uniforms are mostly taxi drivers i.e. working for those who own the taxis, whereas those who wear white are essentially taxi owners and they drive their own taxis or have many taxis, drive just one and the other taxis are driven by the employed drivers. There are many occasions when the taxi drivers feel that unionism does not really benefit them much as much it benefits the taxi-owners since they are the ones who really approach the unions for loans while buying a new taxi or bulk license renewal. In such cases the taxi-drivers feel that becoming a member and the payment of membership is not worth it as they can do most of the jobs for themselves. eg, license renewal.



2. Side tracking the main labour related issues.

Some of the taxi drivers did not feel the need to be belong a union as a union they felt was too politicized, the leader was an outsider, he was not aware of the real problems that were facing the taxi drivers and hence did not really empathize with them, in the process he ignored the real problems the taxi-drivers were facing. There were some cabbies who felt indifferent about the politicization of unions. Politics they justified was a part of every activity in this country and hence in some way or the other politicization was bound to occur.


3. The volte face tendency of unions.

Many times the unions lure the cabbies with false hopes and promises. They tell them that if they become members then the union people would get their work done or provide them with certain facilities and make sure a law isnt passed. In many cases this is just a farce and in reality things dont happen the way the cabbies want them to once they have joined the union. For instance, this year the Shiv Sena union appealed to taxi drivers in Mumbai to become members of their union and if they did then the Sena would make sure that CNG for taxis would not become compulsory, with this promise in mind, many of them did join the Sena union but later on CNG did become compulsory and many of them felt cheated.


4. Inter-union rivalry

Often rival unions work against each other, thereby reducing the efficiency of the labour movement. At times the rivalry shows up in each union adopting contrary strategies and thereby the entire group of taxi-men loses out. At other times, the rivalry takes a violent turn, causing damage to life and property. In the Asian Age (30th December, 2002), it was reported that two rival unions (the City-Taxi-men's Union and the Bharatiya Taxi Chalak Sangh) fought over which would ferry passengers from the domestic and international airports. The violence that erupted caused at least ten taxi drivers to get physically hurt.




The sample size for this survey was 30 taxi drivers chosen randomly from any part of the Mumbai. The following is a sector-wise break-up from which the sample was created.


Mumbai's Sub-sectors:           

South Mumbai Area number of drivers: 10

Central Mumbai Area number of drivers: 8

Western Suburbs number of drivers: 7

Eastern Suburbs number of drivers: 5



The project has tried to ensure that the widest possible section of the Mumbai Metropolis was covered in the survey. Overall, 60 % of the interviews were conducted in Mumbai proper and the balance 40 % was conducted in suburban parts of the metropolis - 58 % in the western suburbs and 42 % in the Eastern suburbs. The interviews were conducted in the months of October and November 2002. The drivers were interviewed outside Petrol-CNG pumps, outside railway stations (especially in the suburbs), outside the domestic airport and outside cinemas. A copy of the questionnaire used during the survey conducted is attached after the bibliography.


MIGRANTS to UP, Karnatak, Maharashtra, Punjab






The project is interested in this aspect, since it ventures to find whether the taxi-driving activity is confined to local labour or to migrant labour or if, to both types of labour, then in what percentage is the divide. It was found that 76.67 % of those interviewed were migrants.


The largest number of migrants was from UP (56.2 %) followed by migrants from the various districts of Maharashtra. The locals who took up to taxi-driving accounted for only 23,3 % of the sample size. The high degree of migrant labour involved in this activity indicates the fact that Mumbai continues to be a big 'pull factor' in the migration process, but then the employment elasticity of the formal sector is not commensurate with the size of the migration influx. Hence, these migrants are forced into low-remunerative jobs like taxi-driving. What also emerged from the interviews was that many of the migrants (about 30 %) came to Mumbai with the sole aim of becoming taxi-drivers.


The less number of non-migrants may be indicative of the fact that these labourers have the luxury of a house and so they can afford to be choosy about the kind of jobs that they opt for. They may be finding the taxi-drivers job to be far risky with respect to the earnings, the maintenance and the level of on-job competition.



Out of the 30 cabbies, 66.67 percent of those interviewed belonged to a union. While the remaining 33.33 percent were not union members. Those who did not belong to a union had strong opinions as to why they did not belong to a union. The following are some the reasons why cabbies would prefer not belonging to a union:


Unions they felt charged money for tasks which could be easily done individually, example license renewal.


Union membership fees sometimes were not affordable to the cabbies


Most of them felt that the unions were benefiting mainly taxi-owners and not those who were working for the owners i.e. the taxi-drivers in the real sense.


Inspite of this it appears that most cabbies in Mumbai do belong to a union and thats because union membership makes a life little easier in serious legal matters in case of accidents and license renewal problems. Thus it is proved from the survey analysis that most of the cabbies belong to a union as they were aware of the fact that unionism is essential for them and thats why they choose to belong to a union. 12



Here for the sake of deeper analysis of the trends, the project has divided the sample group into two sections:

1) Drivers who are employed by people owning the taxis

2) Taxi owners who drive their taxis themselves.

The table given below gives a break up of the two types of drivers interviewed along with the type of employer who has hired them.


15 of the employer were acquaintances  and 10 relatives. In terms of percentages there was a sub-percentage of 60 % when it comes to acquaintances as employers and a 40 % relatives. That gives a sub total of 25 and an overall of 30. The overall procentage is 83.33 %.


5 Taxi-owner drivers meaning an overall percentage of 16.67 %


In the survey it was found that 25 of the drivers (83.33 %) were hired drivers and the balance (a mere 16.67 %) was self-employed drivers. Generally the drivers drove the cabs of their acquaintances and in some case of their relatives. In the case of the former type of employer, the job security is low and the monetary returns are a pittance. In the case of the latter type of employer, there is job security but the returns are far from sustaining.


As far as the incomes of all types of public taxi- drivers are concerned, it was found that the non-owners taxi-drivers make a far from remunerative earnings. This is because the drivers have to give to their employers a fixed amount (ranging between Rs 250 and Rs 300) per day. The employer pays for the CNG and maintenance of the vehicle. But the total daily earnings of a taxi-driver is hardly about (on an average) Rs 300 to Rs 400 per day and so the amount of money that the drivers take home per day is a pittance. If the driver is fined by the traffic cops for any traffic demeanor then he has to pay for it from his own purse. Traffic cops are considered to be predators by tall taxi drivers. They are hauled up for the slightest traffic fault and then have to part with significant amounts either as penalties or (more often) as bribes. Most of the migrant taxi-drivers are unable to remit home money for months together and this cause debts to build up with the families back home.


The self employed drivers are slightly better-off than those employed. This is so as some of these taxi-owners also engage in other kinds of businesses for part of the day and then for some time of the day they indulge in taxi-driving. Thus, their income doesnt solely depend upon earnings from one source. But this species of taxi-drivers is fast becoming extinct since the self-employed are realizing the benefits of becoming driver-employers - they can earn by not being at the wheel and do not have to face cranky customers and police hassles.



This project ventured to check the validity of the hypothesis Trade Unionism is beneficial to the taxi driving activity. Through the analysis of the various reading materials and the survey data, the project reaches the conclusion that the presence of the trade unions in this informal sector activity is a boon for the taxi-drivers.


The following beneifts accrue to the taxi-drivers on account of their union membership:

a) The presence of the unions has ensured that the drivers are not 'taken for a ride' by all those involved in this activity (viz., the traffic authorities, the customers and the insurance companies).

b) The presence of the unions has ensured that the drivers are able to raise their voices in protest in unison and so their bargaining strength has improved due to this. When the drivers strike collectively, they are seen (in the absence of their vehicles on the roads) and heard (in the silence caused by their vehicle being off the roads ). They therefore have a greater surety of their claims being met.

c) The presence of the unions has ensured that the fares are just. It has also guaranteed that the cost involved in controlling the social costs of pollution is not dumped totally on the taxi drivers. The unions have fought on the side of the drivers to get them a reprieve from the insistence of the Traffic Commissioner that all the diesel taxi be grounded. By moving Court the unions have got the drivers an apropriate time frame within which they would have to convert their taxi into CNG ones. Apart from this judiciary support, the unions have also made credit available, at an affordable price, for the conversion into CNG. The unions have approached the Maharashtra Government and demanded that credit be made available for this purpose through co-operative banks and PSU banks.


Unfortunately, the unions have miles to go before they can claim that they are indeed the sole saviours of the taxi drivers. The following is a list of areas of concern that this project raises vis-a-vis the relationship between the trade unions and the taxi drivers.



Why is it that the unions have not brought in family welfare into their dealings with the taxi-drivers ? The unions have failed to evolve any sort of a programme wherein the betterment of the driver's family is ensured. For instance, there is no place for family medical benefits or children's educational benefits involved in the union's dealing with the drivers.



Why has the unions allowed the whole system to be high-jacked by politicians ? Is it that the labour movement has lost its momentum and moorings and so they have to seek the solace and support of the politicians. It is understandable that unions should have political leanings from the pragmatic point of view. But to allow political agendas to dictate the course of the unions is incomprehensible and condemable. The politicization of unions has made the taxi-drivers mere pawns for the politicians and so the drivers' issues get sidelined and political items takes centre stage. The dichotomy between politics and unionism must be brought back for the drivers to acutally benefit.



Finally, why can't the unions unite ? It is the mushrooming of a large number of unions in the taxi-driving segment of the informal sector that has reduced the effectiveness of unionism here. There is constant in-fighting and bickering between unions. Unions rivalry causes violence and tensions and so in the end it is the drivers who are the losers, while the rival union leaders go scot free and compromise with each other. When unions unite would problems like the shortage of parking space and taxi stands, the inter-city permits and exploitation of the employed drivers by their employers take centre stage and the drivers would truly benefit to the hilt.


All said and done, it cannot be denied that the presence of unions is better than its absence for the taxi drivers, for united they would be able to ride customers but without this unison, the drivers would be taken for a ride.

Link: Bombay / Mumbai India

4.5 stars Ave. rating: 4.5 from 2 votes.
  Ogundiwin Aaron Ola   --   Lagos (Nigeria)
posted: 2011-08-26 03:23:40
I am excited to stumble on this piece while browsing the internet! I am currently reaserching on National Union of Road Transport Workers in Nigeria. The union here is used by the politicians for power ascendancy and intimidation. Please, may I know by name? I want scholarly friendship for cross fertilization of ideas.
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