Want AC? Cabbies say sorry, govt. has asked us not to turn it on

BBMP Cabs City

We’ve issued no such order: BBMP

Bengaluru’s cab drivers refuse to turn the air conditioner on when asked to during rides. They cite an official order, but the government says it has issued no such directive.

Sunil Awasthi, an Uber driver, informed The Observer: “The state government has forbidden us from using the AC. I ask my passengers to open the windows. This helps prevent Covid-19.”

Ola drivers had a similar story.

Rajesh Kumar, an Ola driver, said: “I have been informed by the government as well as my company to not switch on the AC. There is a plastic sheet between the front and back seats. Air conditioning wouldn’t be pragmatic.”

The Karnataka government on June 10 eased lockdown restrictions in Bengaluru Urban and 19 other districts, allowing cabs to ferry two masked passengers at a time. In neither of the orders did the government debar cab drivers from using the air conditioner.

The transport department’s Covid-19 prevention guidelines on March 18, 2020, had no mention of the use of air conditioning in cabs. The BBMP has not issued any separate guidelines either.

Manoj Shukla from the BBMP head office said: “We don’t know anything about this. We haven’t issued any such order.”

On May 19, 2020, Ola released new safety guidelines terminating the use of AC during rides. This came about at a time when the pandemic had just begun . The company said AC’s should be switched off to avoid re-circulation of air, and windows should be kept open at all times. Ola has since repealed those guidelines.    

Vikash Thakur, an Ola customer support assistant, shared with The Observer: “We did release some guidelines in May 2020 for the entire country. The guidelines stand revoked since January 2021. We have no idea why cab drivers in Bengaluru are refusing to switch on the AC, and will look into the matter.”

Pankaj Sahni, an Uber customer support assistant, said: “We haven’t debarred the drivers from using the air conditioner during travel. We charge separately for the same, and want the journey to be as smooth as possible.”

Customers say they are inconvenienced.

Prashant Mahajan, a resident of Bengaluru, shared: “Travelling in a cab has become a painful task. I often feel nauseous while riding one. When I tell drivers to switch on the AC, they simply say, sorry we are constrained by government orders. So I avoid using cabs and take an auto instead. Why to spend more money when the service offered is the same.”

His mother, Preeti Mahajan, said: “It is a huge trouble for commuters. How can a student travel long-distance on a hot summer day under these circumstances?”    

A post on the website of Medanta, a chain of multi-specialty medical institutes, says there should be limited use of air conditioners during the pandemic. Covid-19 can spread through droplets suspended in the air. A closed area without ventilation may have droplets left behind by a Covid-19 positive person. These can then be circulated by the air conditioning system.

The WHO’s website states that Covid-19 can be prevented with good ventilation and letting the sunlight get in.

The easing of lockdown restrictions in June 2021 led to auto rickshaws and cabs choking Bengaluru’s roads. Restrictions on the running of buses and the Metro continued then, leaving commuters to depend on auto rickshaws and cabs. All modes of transport are operating now.

chhavi.v@iijnm.org

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