Riding through the smog: A ‘roznamcha’ of ride-sourcing bike taxis

Posted on 30.05.2024
Riding through the smog: A ‘roznamcha’ of ride-sourcing motorbike taxis

March 2024, New Delhi / In the thick of hazardous air & choking pollution, a middle-aged Delhi man continues his ride-sourcing bike-taxi work.  

Join us as we ride alongside him, glimpsing the city and its technologies through his eyes, navigating through the haze, and piercing the low visibility to witness his struggles.

In March 2024, New Delhi, India was ranked the most polluted capital city in the world with particulate matter in its air exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) annual guideline by more than 10 times. This comic strip, created by researchers at the STREET Lab at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities, depicts an interview they conducted with a motorbike-taxi worker in New Delhi, India. It highlights the challenges this driver faces because of the city’s severely deteriorating air quality and is meant to prompt public discussion and enhance understanding of the interconnectedness of environmental and climate-related challenges, urban infrastructure, and labour issues.  

In India, motorbike taxis have become popular among lower-income workers because of their cost-effectiveness, affordability, and limited maintenance requirements. Over 50,000 drivers in the national capital alone make 500-750 thousand trips weekly. During their long hours of work, taxi driversalong with others engaged in bike-driven gig work such as food delivery, e-commerce delivery, and couriersface significant exposure to pollution, which comes with real health risks. The effects of the pollution range from headaches, eye and throat irritation, dizziness and fatigue, to more severe conditions like lung and heart disease or even cancer. A recent study by Rest of the World that tracked a Delhi gig worker’s exposure to carcinogenic pollutants, revealed that levels of PM2.5 (particulates that are 2.5 micrometres in diameter or less) reached up to 468.3 micrograms per cubic meter during his shift. The WHO’s recommended daily average is 15 micrograms per cubic meter. 

Workers, unions, and some policy makers in India and around the world have been demanding better accident insurance coverage for gig workers to protect them from the traffic-related risks of their jobs. However, given the significant work-related hazards created by pollution, there is also a pressing need to broaden health insurance coverage for these workers to include a wider spectrum of health risks. 

Through this comic strip, the researchers Ashique Ali Thuppilikkat, Dipsita Dhar, and Priyank Chandra hope to highlight the need for policies that protect workers from work-related risks and proactively promote their health and safety. They chose a comic strip as a medium to communicate their research because of its ability to blend art and narrative, effectively conveying the emotions and lived realities of the workers’ experience. 

Researchers: Ashique Ali Thuppilikkat, Dipsita Dhar, and Priyank Chandra
Artist: Kadambari K. B.