Chennai: Around 12.30am, after driving for 18 hours, Balaji, who has a Masters in Computer Applications, catches a few winks in his car parked outside Chennai's Koyambedu bus terminus. He can't afford to turn off his Uber phone. He has to clock in business of at least Rs 600 to claim his incentive for the day. His ageing parents back home depend on him. His phone rings. He quickly washes his face and starts the engine to reach his client.
"I hardly get four hours of sleep a day. If we have to make enough money, we have to slog," he said.
While mobile app based Ola and Uber taxi services have changed the way people travelled in cities, it's the drivers who are paying a heavy price for the convenience of passengers.
Sections of around 30,000 Ola and Uber drivers in Chennai struck work for the last three days against falling incentives, impossible targets and long working hours.
Their list of demands includes fare determination by the state government, a minimum of Rs 100 for the first 4km and Rs 17 per km thereafter against the present Rs 6 per km.
At 1.15 am, Francis is taking a nap in the driver's seat. He has a home in Chennai, but he ends up meeting his wife and child once a week. He took Rs 5 lakh car loan. His income has dwindled and he is forced drive long hours.
Similarly, Santosh, a young driver from Tiruvannamalai, took a big loan to buy his car. He, too, lives in his car. "I use public toilets to bathe and sleep in my car at night. I can't afford a room in Chennai," he said.
Over the last few months, Ola and Uber have made it tougher to earn incentives, say drivers. They have hiked their commission, lowered tariffs and increased their fleets manifold. The result: more cars available, less business for drivers.
Sikhander, who drives for Ola, has defaulted on three EMIs. He has already pledged his wife's gold to pay EMIs earlier. He said, "It's getting really difficult to make enough money."
J Nagarajan, another driver, said that initially, he made decent money and he was happy. But now, driving a cab has become a mental torture not just for him, but for his family as well.
When NDTV contacted Ola and Uber representatives, nobody responded.