Govt wants Uber, Ola to fall in line

Govt wants  Uber, Ola to fall in line

Delhi government claims it has come down heavily on cabs run by app-based taxi-hailing firms, with ban on peak-time charges and more disciplining on roads. Special Commissioner Transport K K Dahiya says app-based companies like Uber and Ola still require a licence to operate as an aggregator of taxis in the city.

The online cab-hailing services were declared illegal till licensed by Delhi’s Transport Department, following the infamous Uber rape case in December 2014 which sparked concerns over lack of safety for women commuters in public transport.

While the question of its legality is being discussed in courts, Dahiya tells Deccan Herald, “We are registering complaints against all operators who do not have licence. In at least 11 cases, the head of Uber India has been named,” Dahiya says DH.

“Ola is also one of the violators,” he adds.

He says as part of a special drive to rein in “unlicensed” aggregators, the Delhi government has impounded 595 taxis. These vehicles were seized in the last few weeks over ‘surge pricing’, ‘violation of permit norms’ and ‘passenger complaints’.

Just when the Delhi government was letting its intentions known to taxi aggregators, the Capital saw yet another incident of alleged sexual crime in a moving cab. This time, a Belgian woman on a 90-day tourist visa to India said she was molested by an Ola driver.

Governments abroad have also taken on taxi aggregators. S P Singh, a senior fellow of the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, says the city of Rio de Janeiro recently saw a crippling protest by taxi drivers against Uber, the US-based ride-hailing firm with a presence in 445 cities worldwide.

“Major highways were jammed for hours,” he says about last month’s protest in Rio, which is months away from the Olympic Games. The regular taxi drivers are demanding that Uber leaves Brazil. Despite being banned by the Rio’s city council, the smartphone-based cab-hailing application operates under a court injunction – a scenario not unfamiliar to Delhi.

Citing unfair competition, Delhi’ local taxi driver groups have demanded curbs on Uber and Ola.

Even though the city rules allow only CNG cabs, Uber and Ola drivers, who are private contractors using their own vehicles, often use diesel-fuelled All India Tourist Permit (AITP) vehicles, authorised by Central government, to run point-to-point services in Delhi-National Capital Region.

“At Ola, we have been working relentlessly over the last 6 months to help tens of thousands of diesel taxi driver-owners across Delhi-NCR by highlighting their plight to the EPCA (Environment Pollution Control Authority) as well as the relevant Govt authorities in order to get some respite, as well as facilitate a more structured phase out,” a company statement from Ola had said.

Ola said it had also helped tens of thousands of drivers exchange their old diesel cars for new CNG cars through discounts from car manufacturers and easy loans from financial institutions.

According to an estimate, nearly 60,000 diesel cabs ply in Delhi-NCR. Singh claims that most of these ply for Uber and Ola.

Earlier this week, however, Supreme Court gave a reprieve by converting its blanket ban to ‘gradual phase-out’.

Surge pricing
Another looming concern regarding app-based taxi-hailing firms is surge pricing, a business practice in which app-based firms raise the fare when demand for the cabs go up in a particular area. Delhi government had ordered cab aggregators to follow the government approved rates for taxi services. Scores of cabs were impounded for levying peak charges during the odd-even road-rationing scheme, between April 15 and April 30.

“The app-based companies create unfair competition for local companies,” Singh says, describing protests in Delhi and Rio. “Meru, black-and-yellow taxis and economy radio cabs have taken up cudgels against app-based services like Uber and Ola.”

Special Commissioner Transport Dahiya says Uber is yet to file a “fresh application” after its application for a licence was rejected last year. But he said Ola has applied
for it.

Singh says it is hard for city to rein in app-based taxi-hailing companies as the job of enforcement lies with two agencies – Transport Department and Delhi Police.

“Powers are divided. Police is under Centre, while the Transport Department comes under the Delhi government. Both the agencies are responsible for enforcement. But I think, the Transport Department should restrict itself to drafting regulations,” he says.

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