Cab rides, cheap no more

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Trapped between expensive auto rides and unreliable public transport, Bengalureans were once delighted by a surprise alternative: App-based cabs, with a disruptive aggregator model that offered rates which were unbelievably affordable. Today, that euphoria stands dulled and defeated.

Here’s why: Driven by the state transport department’s new fare structure, the cab rates have risen sharply in recent months. Commuters hooked to Ola, Uber and other app-based aggregators suddenly find that much-liked ‘affordability’ factor gone. Cornered, they are left seriously wondering: Why not go back to personal vehicles?

Costly shared rides

Shared commute options, perfected through the OlaShare and UberPool avatars, offered cheaper alternatives to solo rides. But the new fare rules have made even these rides costly. A third option, the app-based autorickshaw rides, once touted as the cheapest of them all, are notorious for being unavailable.

Is this what the doctor ordered for a city hopelessly caught in gigantic traffic jams? When every urban mobility expert cries for reduced reliance on private transport, are expensive cab commute the way to go? Ultimately, the commuters could make the decision. To either dump the cabs, return to personal transport or simply pay up and surrender to the dynamics of pricing.

Rising fares have instilled a sense of unpredictability. Mobility experts say this could eventually lead commuters to new platforms that offer flat rates, the same strategy that traditional taxi operators had perfected for years. Many operators with a national footprint have also emerged in Bengaluru, offering drivers for as low as Rs 300 for four hours. Commuters feel that this way, they can sit in their own cars and plan their trips better.

Minimum fares

On March 3, this year, the transport department had notified the new rate structure, revising the fares announced earlier. Categorising vehicles under A, B, C and D based on their cost, the minimum fares were fixed for the first four kilometers.

For Class D cabs (up to Rs 5 lakh), the minimum fare was kept unchanged at Rs. 44. But the fares were hiked to Rs 48 for Class C (Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh), to Rs 64 for Class B (Rs 10 lakh to Rs 16 lakh) and Rs 80 for Class A (Rs 16 lakh and above).

The fare structure for subsequent kilometers was fixed at a minimum of Rs 11 and maximum of Rs 22 (Class D vehicles), Rs 12 and Rs 24 (Class C), Rs 16 and Rs 34 (Class B) and Rs 20 and Rs 45 for (Class A) taxies. Aggregators are now allowed to recover additional charges such as GST and toll from the commuters.

So, how different is the new fare structure? The earlier tariff had no concept of a minimum fare. The maximum fare was capped at Rs 14 per km for non-AC and Rs 19.5 per km for AC vehicles. While the new rule stresses on distance travelled and not time, it mandates a waiting charge of Rs 10 per 15 minutes after the ‘free’ first 20 minutes.

Limited flexibility

Invariably, the fixed rates have limited the flexibility of fares offered by the cab aggregators. The traditional taxi operators had cried foul over the discounted prices and virtually free rides initially offered by the new entrants to gain customers. Eventually, the consumers who hoped to benefit from competitive pricing and resultant low fares are now the losers.

But the cab aggregators say their revised fares only reflect the government’s policy. “Nobody is charging more than the fare prescribed by the transport department. Customers can notice that the surge pricing has now reduced. Besides, the new structure allows drivers to earn a better income,” reasons the spokesperson of an aggregator.

At loggerheads with the cab aggregators for long over aggressive pricing, the Bengaluru Tourist Taxi Operators Association (BTTOA) now has no issues with the new enhanced fares. “Our businesses are different. But we have retained our base for traditional taxi services, although our rates have remained the same despite increases in fuel and vehicle costs over the last four years,” explains the Association president, Radhakrishna Holla.

Tourist taxi view

Over 1.25 lakh vehicles attached to it primarily caters to transport of corporate company employees and tourists. “Many cab drivers attached to the aggregators are now returning to us, as they cannot make enough even after driving day and night,” informs Holla.

For commuters hooked to Ola, Uber and other aggregators, the shift is not so easy. Solo, short-distance rides that cost barely Rs 35 to Rs 40 two months ago are now as pricey as Rs 75 or more. Enquiries reveal that many have now switched totally to the relatively cheaper UberPool and OlaShare options, even if that means compromising on time.

Both Uber and Ola have reported the city’s emergence as the top city for car-pooling. But rising fares have not spared the shared commute option. For instance, a shared trip from Indiranagar Metro Station to Thippasandra was once as cheap as Rs 29. Today, the 3.5-km ride gets as high as Rs. 59, while a solo, UberGo ride could go up to Rs 85.

Hooked to cabs for long, many commuters say they have no choice but to pay up. Many are also confused by the category-wise fare structure, and how exactly it determines their individual fare. Yet, if the cab rates continue to soar, there are many who say they just might return to their personal cars and motorcycles. That, as mobility analysts warn, would be disastrous for the roads.

Also read: Customers dumping solo rides, getting onto pooled cabs

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