Pooling around the ban

Pooling around the ban

For decades, Bengalureans had no choice beyond the city’s notoriously inadequate public transport system and troublesome autorickshaw rides.

App-based taxis gave them that alternative, and with carpooling, those services became affordable for many more. Now, most would consider this a godsend in a city struggling to cope with its traffic-choked roads. Four people in one car would effectively remove three extra cars. But no, the state transport department would have none of them. It now wants taxi-aggregators Uber and OlaCabs to take them off.  

Here’s the department’s rationale, articulated by Transport Commissioner M K Aiyappa: The shared carpooling services are a violation of the Motor Vehicle Act and the Karnataka On-demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules, 2016.

The message to the aggregators is clear: Operate the cabs only from a single pickup point to a single destination point. OlaShare or UberPool, which allows the passengers to board the same car from multiple points along a common route, will just have to go.

Legality of service

But Uber insists that its UberPool service is perfectly legal. Ridesharing products, says Uber, help decongest the roads by getting more commuters into lesser cars. They are cheaper than autorickshaw rides. Affordable, convenient transport options that can effectively reduce pollution and congestion are the future of urban mobility.

For now, the aggregator and the transport department appear to be on a collision course, although a resolution is likely next week. Yet, the issue has brought to the fore the government’s fixation with an old licence raj that thrives on bribery and opaque deals, say mobility experts.

Laws are meant to improve the lives of people, not make it difficult, contends former co-chairman of the Commuter Comfort Task Force, Muralidhar Rao. “It is criminal to suggest that carpooling services should not be encouraged. The roadblocks are only to perpetuate their vested interests,” he says.

The Centre has already tabled the Transport Bill that deals with concepts such as ridesharing. “But why wait for it to be passed? When clearly, the times have changed, you don’t need to amend the Constitution,” reasons Rao.

Contract carriage permits

The ride-sharing services are offered under contract carriage permits, which the department reiterates, cannot be used to pick up and drop passengers in between trips. In effect, the cabs will have to work like vehicles hired for school picnics or marriage functions.

To pick up and drop passengers along a given route, stage carriage permit is required. But only the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) is accorded this permit, besides school and college buses.

Transport authorities had impounded 32 cars of Ola and Uber last week, contending that the aggregators had defied orders. The cab firms then sought 15 days to comply with the regulations. Drivers say they will continue to operate but the companies and department have to clear the uncertainty soon.

If law is the stumbling block in allowing ride-sharing, why not amend rules to issue the stage carriage permit to others too? This is the counter by the experts, who cite BMTC’s challenges in addressing the mounting public transport demands of a fast-growing city.

Cheaper alternative

Global studies indicate that 70% of daily trips in cities of developing countries are work and education-related. If this is addressed by an efficient public transport system, most city commute problems can be tackled. But in Bengaluru, BMTC is plagued by problems of funds, quality and efficiency.

Commuters have found the car-pool services just the right alternative since the cost per ride is about 50% less than individual rides. Uber has stated that over 25% of its total trips in the city are now Pool trips. The OlaShare service too has been popular, although the rates often go up during peak hours.

Determined to keep BMTC the only public transport option under the stage carriage permit, the state had earlier cracked down on ZipGo, a shuttle bus aggregator, citing violation of the Karnataka Motor Vehicles Rules of 1989. Its vehicles were impounded in big numbers, following which the service was shut down in 2015.

The same logic was applied by the government to deem the bike taxis launched by both Ola and Uber illegal. In March 2016, both the aggregators had to withdraw the services. While this has become the norm, private maxicabs and private buses heading out of the city are often seen picking up passengers from BMTC bus stops. Nobody seems to mind!

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