Courts have stepped in after governments in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka put the brakes on Rapido bike taxi service.
Now, as the issue is being thrashed out, the bike taxis can only be content operating in whatever space they get.
A Madras High Court order on Thursday (1 August) should provide some relief for Rapido, a compay that operates bike taxis in nearly a dozen cities across the country. The court has stayed a Tamil Nadu government order that bans bike taxis in the state.
Rapido, owned by Hyderabad-based Roppen Transportation Services, has been facing problems in operating in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which account for a huge user base for it, given the transportation woes in these states, for quite sometime.
The High Court, while staying the ban, ordered the state government to come out with a legislation to regulate such services. A two-judge bench of justices Vineeth Kothari and C V Karthikeyan also stayed a Tamil Nadu Police communication to Google, Apple and Indian Computer Emergency Response Team to remove 'Rapido App' from their platform.
The order also overrules the 18 July order of a single judge of the court banning bike taxi services across the state. Then, the single judge had imposed the ban until the state government came out with its regulations.
Rapido had challenged the single judge order of the Madras High Court saying that all safety measures have been taken for users of its services. Insurance is provided to riders, including those riding pillion, helmet has been provided for pillion rider and safety measures like emergency button have been provided for women, the bike taxi service firm argued.
This is the second time that Rapido has faced problems in Tamil Nadu. Earlier in October last year, Regional Transport Office authorities in Coimbatore seized nine of its motorcycles as the service didn’t have a valid licence from the Transport Department.
Rapido, a mobile app for booking bike taxis, began its operations in November 2015. The company was incorporated in January 2015. It has IIT alumni Aravind Sanka, Rishikesh Sunku Ramnath, Kunal Khatar, Murray Ernst Hoppe and Pavan Kumar Guntupalli as directors.
In 2017, it was seen as one of top five promising startup companies in the country.
Rapido has been under pressure since the beginning of this year before the Madras High Court stay gave it some breather. Early this year, the Karnataka government had banned bike taxi services in the state. Karnataka Transport Department began to crack the whip on such services and 128 of its bikes were seized and a notice was served on Rapido on 19 March.
Karnataka Transport Department says it cannot allow bike taxi services until the state government takes a stand on such mode of transport.
In April, ANI Technologies, which runs Ola taxi services across the country, approached the Karnataka High Court pleading for a framework within which bike taxi services can operate. The case is being heard by the High Court and has helped Rapido continue its operations.
Rapido is also facing some problems in Telangana following the death of a user who was riding pillion. Questions have been raised over the extension of bike taxi services but the company hasn’t been affected by this.
Rapido has reported over 80,000 rides a day but at the same time has been facing one legal problem or the other. Issues have mainly cropped up in Karnataka, where it has been facing the authorities’ ire since 2017, and Tamil Nadu.
The problem in Tamil Nadu is that two-wheelers like motorbikes and scooters are classified as non-transport vehicles. So, they cannot be put to commercial use like a taxi or tourist car. Call taxis are permitted to operate as 'commercial vehicles' and hence companies like Ola, Uber and Fast Track operate.
Interestingly, share autos are popular in Tamil Nadu but the services they offer are illegal. Over 10,000 such autos ply in the state. As per provisions of the Transport Department, autos can be run only as 'contract carriages' and not as 'stage carriages’. This means these autos have been run point to point. They cannot stop en route to pick up or drop passengers at random.
Share autos continue to ply due to commuter and political patronage. Though traffic policemen pull up these share autos daily, they only fine them Rs 100 for 'parking in no parking area' than for operating as a 'stage carrier'.
Earlier this week, about 40 bike taxi riders staged a protest rally in front of the Coimbatore collectorate demanding the ban on bike taxi services be lifted. These riders sought legalising of their services and also protection from auto rickshaw and taxi drivers who were cornering and seizing their vehicles.
Rapido isn’t the only bike service firm that is facing problems. Uber, which has introduced UberMoto, and Ola are also having problems with their bike taxi services.
With the issue now having reached the portals of the high courts, it is only natural that the doors of the Supreme Court will be knocked for a solution. For now, bike taxis can only be content operating in whatever space they get.