Alok Singh leads Operations at Cityflo. Here, he takes us through what Cityflo has been up to, during the pandemic.
On 23rd March, the country closed its doors, and rightfully so, to a normal social life. I welcomed it in the beginning. It was nice not to have to step out every day. For me and those around me, life didn't change much. That wasn't the case for many others though, especially our drivers.
A typical driver is a man of modest means. Many Cityflo drivers are migrants from other states, and much of their salary is sent back to their families toward basic expenses and their children’s education. So, when Cityflo operations stopped and the bus owners (who we work with) couldn't pay them their salaries, this naturally posed a big problem for them.
Overnight, drivers had to start living hand to mouth, with no signs that things would get better anytime soon. It'd have taken just one emergency to turn their worlds upside down. As luck would have it, that’s exactly what happened.
The Assam cyclone flooded and destroyed the homes of a few. Some drivers' children needed to be hospitalised after falling sick. One's plans to get married was left hanging in the balance. We heard the worst of it when one of our drivers, a father to two kids, passed away in a road accident.
Sitting back in my home, it really hit hard how differently this lockdown had treated some people. For most of you reading this, it meant working from home. For many others, it was struggling to make two ends meet.
Now our drivers might not be on our payroll, but we're close. They're an extension of our Operations team. They discuss their problems around their families, finances or even work matters rather freely with us. Moreover, we are very invested in their personal and professional development.
When the lockdown was announced, we knew we needed to act, and act fast. Our team rallied and within a fortnight of the announcement, we'd understood every driver's situation, planned a driver relief program and set up a driver helpline number for emergency support.
Shweta from our team even started a podcast for them, to increase awareness around safety practices during this time, and to keep them entertained. You can listen to one of the episodes here.
The times were tough, yes, but it was heartening to see the focus and energy of the team as they began fighting this crisis.
Driver Relief Program
On April 10, we launched a Driver Relief fund to support our drivers in distress. We allocated funds to provide groceries and supplies for their families, and in certain cases, emergency support, as part of the Phase I of this program. Furthermore, we issued medical insurance (for COVID-19) for all our drivers.
As it slowly became clear how adversely the lockdown would affect certain sections of the community, we started receiving messages from our customers to offer help and donations towards the program. It was encouraging to see our customers thinking of Cityflo drivers as their own. We started a small fundraiser for customers with the help of Akshayashakti Foundation and thanks to their prompt and generous contributions, we reached our goal of Rs.5L within 14 hours.
With the fund in place, we were able to help all of the drivers and their families in a timely way. Sibu, one of our adored drivers, also got married during this time.
There were limited options to deliver groceries and other supplies during the pandemic, so we took matters into our own hands. It was both, scary and exciting, to step out of the house and make grocery packets outside a local supermarket. It took us all night to make them, but we managed to deliver them to each of their homes. Uday's, one of our drivers, entire family stepped out to thank me for the help.
Few moments in life have made me more proud.
As the lockdown eased, some drivers left for their hometowns to be with their families. Most of them chose to stay. Rahul, one of our popular drivers, said, “Sir, yahi hoon, aap jab bhi Cityflo start karo, mai ready hoon”. (Translation: “Sir, I'm right here. Whenever Cityflo resumes, I'll be ready.”). He even found a part time job to deliver vegetables during this period!
Thanks to two NGOs - Project Mumbai and Yuva Foundation - we were able reach drivers in areas we couldn't access earlier. The following month we launched Phase II of our program. Today, all our drivers receive grocery packets monthly and a cash transfer for all other needs.
Healing, coming back stronger
With the driver relief program underway and a potential service relaunch around the corner, we doubled down on our preparation. We launched Cityflo Protect, a safety protocol to make sure our passengers and drivers stay protected on their commute, when services resumed. For our drivers, this meant being trained in personal hygiene, learning about risks of virus transmission, bus disinfection standards, contact tracing and maintaining safety in the buses. The team had a lot of fun creating training modules using home-shot videos.
We re-started our services on 15th June after seeking permissions from local authorities. It was a huge moment for the team. The sheer joy of revving their bus engines after a long hiatus, brought a big smile to our drivers' faces. Re-starting our service with a new app, systems and safety processes felt like we were launching Cityflo for the very first time.
The execution was flawless.
Props to our drivers who were and continue to be extremely involved in restart of services, despite the hardship they faced. I'm confident we will come out of these times stronger and closer.
Our efforts towards driver welfare don’t stop here. We are as invested in them as they are in us, if not more. We’re planning the launch of the Phase III of our Driver Relief Program as I write this, to help them grow, personally as well as professionally. But more on that later.