The entry of new technologies has significant implications in shaping and governing transport operators in Bangalore. Going forward with my analysis I am studying how technologies interact in the city’s highly territorialised rickshaw industry by facilitating the access of less powerful drivers to politically managed spaces of the city, such as central rail and bus stations, and shopping malls, where overcharging passengers is the norm. Previously, drivers who are not well connected to driver networks have been denied access to these lucrative spaces. Aggregator companies (Uber and Ola) are beneficial to users by connecting users and drivers who work outside of territorial auto stands on the meter rate (or close to meter rate). However, this technology is not accessible to all users, or drivers, in the city and some benefit more than others producing mobility inequity.
On my journey to explore the spatiality of the rickshaw industry and how existing practices of fare setting mix with digital technologies, my research has taken three routes:
- I interviewed auto rickshaw drivers and two registered rickshaw driver unions to explore existing practices of fare setting in the city, the spatiality of the rickshaw industry, and how emerging forms of digital route and fare setting encounter more traditional practices.
- I interviewed the Traffic Police Additional Commissioner and observed traffic police at key rickshaw stands to understand the relationship between drivers and the police, and how the police have influenced fare setting.
- I also engaged with transport users of various socio-economic backgrounds in the city to examine how class shapes the spatiality of emerging digital technologies in the rickshaw industry and thus, driver practices.
The cultural value of ‘real’, physical, money is deeply embedded in lower class communities of the city in ways that vastly contrast day-to-day payments and the flow of salaried incomes among middle-class citizens. There are temporal differences in the flow of hard cash and electronic payments for drivers, which has implications for other aspects of their lives, including debt and fuel payments, or lifestyle changes around using ATMs. Drivers who can connect to digital apps. are steered toward higher income areas of the city where transport users are digitally inclined. The effect is that the distribution of drivers who enable cheaper priced trips through a phone app. is highly uneven. Meanwhile lower-income citizens remain priced out of this transport mode. They do not take certain trips and are restricted to bus routes and times, and with less income, they are more vulnerable to overcharging when travelling to/from major transit areas of the city.
I have observed that technology is optimistically envisioned as a solution to numerous social problems in cities and is currently privileged in such a way that is reproduces existing forms of inequity. One example is how global aggregator companies have been entitled to increase operator trip prices according to demand. They extricate additional value from users through ‘surcharging’ at times of high demand through a flexible pricing policy administered by the city government. The new fare structure also manages the maximum fares that can be charged to users. In the context of India, this also includes times of heavy rainfall. Dynamic practices of fare setting have always existed in the rickshaw industry, and although regulated against by the government, police have been tolerant in enforcing a set fare ‘on the meter’.
Yet, I question why have digital companies been allowed through the law to practice dynamic pricing, whereas individual transport operators – traditionally from low income communities- have not received the same benefit? As things stand in Bangalore, technology and corporate actors are being privileged in the transport system and its regulations, over drivers and users who have little power. Fare setting policy will need to be updated for local rickshaw drivers in an era of digital fare and GPS aggregator route setting. However, a greater challenge will be de-territorializing the industry so that all drivers can benefit from a flexible fare pricing structure and so that a maximum fare can be enforced more easily across all spaces of the city.