A virtual service, virtually ungoverned

A virtual service, virtually ungoverned

Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari may be against a total ban on app-based cab services like Uber despite the alleged rape of a girl by a taxi driver, but a set of rules that should have been in place to govern such services is only conspicuous in their absence.

By contrast, transport departments of various states have laid down guidelines to regulate radio cabs, asking them to register and have a certain number of vehicles in their fleet either directly owned or leased.  The regulation that all radio cabs must be fixed with GPS-based tracking systems for constant communication with the central control room while on duty is particularly pertinent in the wake of the rape incident.

The onus of checking the driver’s policy verification is also on the licensee, while radio cabs are also governed by rules like compulsory uniform for drivers, sticking to the city limits and running on fares fixed by the transport department.

None of these guidelines would apply for app-based cab services like Uber or Ola, who, by their basic definition, are categorised as aggregators or those who run online platforms that merely connect drivers with their customers.

If driver X owning a cab can just log on to the aggregator’s website and provide their contact information and taxi registration number, he will have queries for cabs forwarded to him by the aggregator.

Strangely enough, the rules for radio cabs do not apply since aggregators do not own the taxis and are not obliged to check the driver’s antecedence.

A GPS-based tracker is also not mandatory. As a result, when the driver turns off his smartphone, as it happened in the Delhi rape case, there is no way the service provider could track the cab or its driver, a senior transport ministry official told Deccan Herald.

The challenges in governing such services are evident from the revenue sharing method.

Uber, for instance, is based out of San Francisco and operates its Indian service through its arm in the Netherlands.

Payments made to Uber therefore go to its Netherlands office. The company takes its cut and redirects the driver’s share back to India.

Since each transaction between customer, driver and the company takes place online, there is no direct contact between the driver and the service provider, the official added.

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