Raja Angam (68) has been an auto driver since 1978. “After years of hard-hitting savings I brought an auto in 2010, but because of Ola and Uber I could hardly earn Rs. 500 and now that the government has demonetised Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes, I have to drive for 16 hours to earn as low as Rs. 300,” he told dismally.
The decision of demonetisation in a speech by PM Narendra Modi on 8th November has afflicted Raja Angam and many alike. From auto rickshaws to pick-up vehicles, demonetization has comprehensively taken a toll on the transportation business.
Looking sporadically at a group of women standing at Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc) gate, Angam said, “You see the women standing there? I asked them if they want an auto and they said that their cab is coming.”
Angam explains that people don’t have change to travel by auto and he too can’t help that. “So they are opting for cheaper options like share cabs and auto.” But he is unaware of the fact that cab drivers too are reeling for the same reason.
Shivaji, an Ola cab driver, was depressed by Modi’s decision. “Modi has no children to feed, so it’s easy for him to take such a decision, it is us who have to suffer.”
For Shivaji, business was good as he was conveniently making 2000 rupees per day, “But today, making Rs. 1000 has become a daunting task.” He pointed out, “It’s 3 pm already and I have made only Rs. 300 since 8 am. Young people who used my cab for movies and nightouts have no cash. Every time I stood near IIT, I was flooded with cab requests, but now it takes about an hour before I find a passenger.”
“The problem is that there is no money for rotation and moreover Tamil Nadu hasn’t yet received its new 500 rupee notes.”
He was cynical about the government’s claim of a crackdown on black money. “As long as we have rich politicians, black money is going nowhere,” said the 53 year old with a smirk.
His thoughts were reiterated by Purushotamman, a 41 year old Bolero Maxi truck driver. “Money is already running at the high level, but people like me are suffering even though corruption is happening. Look at what happened in Gujarat,” he said while talking about the government employees arrested by the Gujarat police for accepting Rs. 4 lakh bribe in Rs. 2000 notes.
Purushottamman is still being paid in old notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000. “The contract engineer pays me in old notes and I have to go to the bank to deposit. I went to the bank on Wednesday and stood in line for 6 hours and then the bank said that there was no cash. I was helpless and had to revisit the next day. The day I go to the bank is the day I make no money,” he said showing his Rs. 1000 note.
“Petrol pumps are unwilling to put fuel below 500. So although my truck tank is full, I don’t have money to run the house,” said Purushottamman, a father to a school going girl and two college boys.
Even though many are sad about Modi’s demonetization step, not everyone is skeptical about its impact. “I am being paid in old notes and there is no problem with that because the petrol pumps are exchanging my money. The cash crunch problem is only for a few months and then it will be back to normal,” said Raja, looking at the travelers exiting the Chennai domestic airport, with a hope of getting a customer for his black and white taxi.
Even though Raja’s business has been hit hardly, he is optimistic over the government’s move. “I am hardly making Rs. 2000 now as compared to Rs. 4000. I go to the bank everyday in the morning and get back to work by 12. This takes up a lot of my time, but I feel that this is a good step.”
Demonetisation has diverted passengers from autos and taxis to buses and trains. C. Venugopal, who runs a saree shop in Sowcarpet, used to travel by cab everyday from Velachery, but now does so by MRTS. “Even after the ban, I commuted by cab because I thought it would all be normal in a few days, but it didn’t happen. Then I decided to MRTS to save money because I can’t go to the bank every day.”
Ravi, who gives ticket at the Indira Nagar ticket counter said that demonetisation hasn’t affected the MRTS. “MRTS tickets cost just Rs. 5 or Rs. 10. Currency notes of lower denomination are usually exchanged and therefore the crisis has not directly affected the transport system. However, not many have applied for a season ticket in the past one week. Let alone 500 and 1000, People who comes with 100 rupee notes are a problem for other passengers at the ticket counter,” he said.
On the other hand, MTC buses have seen a significant surge in the number of passengers. Raja Panti (28), a bus conductor pointed out, “Generally we have 600 passengers in an eight hour shift, but now we get more than 700 passengers. Even though today (Sunday) is a holiday, we have had 500 passengers already.” This was at 2.15 in the afternoon today.
Panti said that there is not much of an exchange problem in MTC. “We get only 100s, 50s, 20s and 10s from passengers and even if they are giving Rs. 2ooo notes, we exchange them.”
The story of Ola, an Indian cab service giant, is way different than the negative impact on the traditional transportation system. Especially because the company has used the cash hungry India economy to build up its digital payment solution.
A report carried by the Indian Express on November 9 said that Ola Money, part of taxi aggregator Ola, Wednesday reported over 1500 per cent increase in recharges across 102 cities of its operation in past 15 hours after government withdrew circulation denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes in a major move against black money and graft. The surge in recharges was seen between 8:30 PM till midnight.
Recently the company also launched a new ad campaign that was showcased on all platforms with the tagline, “Nahi rukega India, cashless chalega India.” The tagline translates to ‘India won’t stop, India will ride cashless.”
How far will the likes of Ola will suffocate the likes of Raja Angam, is a wait and watch story. Until the government comes out to protect their livelihoods, the future generation will unfortunately not know what it meant to shout ‘auto’.