Bike Taxi Bans Are About Hidden Agendas, Not Commuter Safety
The ban on bike taxis appears to be motivated by reasons other than the welfare of commuters and drivers.
As the country urbanises quickly, commuters across all classes should have access to affordable commuting options.
The Delhi Transport Department issued a notice to bike taxi operators Ola, Rapido, and Uber to cease their bike taxi operations with immediate effect on February 20.
Technically, since these bikes are non-transport vehicles, they are not allowed to carry passengers, the notice said.
The notice added that the Delhi government is working on a policy that would only allow electric vehicles to operate as bike taxis, along with other regulations for the sector.
The sudden move has adversely impacted riders and drivers, many of whom bike taxis were a source of primary or supplementary income.
Multiple States Have Banned Bike Taxis
Delhi isn’t the first state to ban bike taxis.
These bans have been in place in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Tamil Nadu allows bike taxi operations, but bike taxi operators have only continued operations after a Madras High Court judgement allowed them to continue operations in the state.
Under its new policy, Karnataka will allow electric two-wheelers to operate bike taxis in the state. Other states have tried making yellow number plates and registration compulsory for those who run “app-bikes”. So far, these steps haven’t worked out well for multiple reasons.
Kolkata, for instance, is considering charging Rs 1,000 for registering a non-transportation vehicle as an app bike and initiating a separate registration process for those who wish to use their bikes for transporting people.
Usually, delivery partners for apps make anywhere between Rs 8000 to Rs 20,000 a month depending on the number of trips and other factors – out of which they pay for petrol, maintenance and other operational costs.
Drivers have often complained that aggregators take a significant chunk of their fees. Under these circumstances, the upfront fee and a long process might not be conducive for small players.
Bike-Taxis Have Been Beneficial for Commuters and Drivers
So far, bike taxis have been quite popular with commuters since they are less prone to getting stuck in traffic and cost much lower than a cab or auto trip.
Given the narrow streets in some urban areas, these bikes are much more reliable for commuting than a cab or a rickshaw.
From the driver partners’ perspective, being on multiple apps simultaneously allows them to sweat their assets (the vehicle) fully.
For instance, if a partner goes to a certain location to deliver food for one platform but has no orders nearby, he can switch to a bike-taxi platform and try finding passengers. Rather than depending on only deliveries, they can diversify their source of income.
For aggregators, bike taxis are another source of revenue at a time when their cab business is growing at a relatively slow rate.
The Reason behind Banning Bike-Taxis
While regulating a nascent sector slowly makes sense, outright bans on bike taxis would create trouble for commuters and drivers alike.
South-eastern countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia have seen bike taxis get adopted very quickly.
India is urbanising at a rapid pace, and a city must offer travel options for all classes of citizens and across all areas.
Bikes are an attractive, convenient, and cheap last-mile transportation option for many.
Governments should look at slowly regulating a sector rather than putting out outright bans that sometimes do not even have a proper reason.
These bans might have been initiated to support the Rickshaw and Cab Unions that have been quite vocal in their complaints about bike taxis.
These unions have also been vocal against aggregators, and aggregators have a long way to go in offering better money, terms, and working conditions for drivers.
Apart from technical-legal grounds and safety concerns, governments haven’t offered many valid reasons for banning bike taxis.
Safety is an important concern since drivers might drive fast to complete multiple trips and should be worked on to prevent accidents.
A bike accident can undoubtedly be more dangerous than a similar one in a rickshaw or car. But on the other hand, blaming bike taxis for pollution might not be too effective - since there hasn’t been much focus on electrifying rickshaws or cabs except in Delhi.
Electrification, however, would also mean that only those who can afford to buy electric vehicles or fleets would be allowed to operate, which can have a negative impact on drivers.
Asking bike drivers through the commercial registration process and paying for commercial license plates has more of a commercial benefit for governments who want a share of the growing action.
Ultimately, the ban appears to be motivated by reasons other than the welfare of commuters and drivers. As highlighted earlier, in a country which is urbanising quickly, commuters across all classes should have access to affordable commuting options.
Public transportation has made great strides in recent years but still has a long way to go. Until then, governments must work on optimising the commuting experience and cost for citizens, rather than doing the opposite.
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