Officials in the Karnataka government recently did something that pretty much annoyed everyone. It asked for Ola, Uber and local cab associations to stop offering carpooling/vehicle-sharing services. Quite ironic, given that the Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP) has been actively promoting carpooling for over half a decade now. To be fair, there is a difference. The pooling that BTP was talking about was individual vehicle-owners sharing their vehicles with neighbours and co-workers, not cab owners picking up multiple people and dropping them off en route. They were alright with people doing it for free, and sharing costs, but don’t want to allow people to make money out of it, even if it did help improve mobility within the city.
This isn’t the first time the Karnataka government has messed up the transport policies with its eagerness to bring in more regulation. In June 2016, the government decided that it would nationalise bus routes across the state. A terrible idea that reeked of a socialist hangover, it proposed to cancel permits given to private operators within the state, and allow only the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and its not-so-great siblings North West and North East KRTC to operate. It went on to cite the two neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as examples.
However, as I pointed out back then, the plan would have been futile. Private players have been operating across the other two states for a while by simply registering their buses elsewhere, or by running them non-stop.
Then there was the case of the Karnataka Aggregators Bill of 2016. As explained by Swarajya’s Shreyas Bharadwaj, the extremely regressive law decided to provide a level-playing field for aggregators and the older on-demand cab operators, also known as call taxis. It is common sense that the duration of a journey is determined by its slowest leg. Thus, even if you manage to cover the first half of your trip from Kempegowda Airport to the outskirts of Bengaluru in half an hour, the two hours it takes to cover the remaining is what determines how long your journey takes. This regulation did the same thing. It ensured that all cabs, both call taxis and aggregators operated along the slow lane.
Now, coming to Uber Pool, Ola Share, and other carpooling ventures. The government decision is based on the definition of contract carriage. In Maharashtra, state-run buses operate as ‘stage carriages’, which gives them the right to stop at certain places to pick up passengers en route. Private players are relegated to the status of ‘contract carriages’, which is why several of them operate non-stop services from end to end. According to the contract carriage permit, which regulates the operation of taxis in the state, cabs are only allowed to pick up a customer from the source point and drop them to their destination, with no additional pickups to be made during the trip.
Now this is where the problem starts and ends. When the cabs are being governed under a 2016 law, why is this definition appearing from a pair of laws from 1988 (Motor Vehicles Act) and 1989 (Central Motor Vehicle Rules)? Further, the cab owner (invariably the driver), under the aegis of driving a vehicle registered for commercial use, with a yellow number plate, pays taxes and commercial levies to the government. Why then, is the government interfering in what vehicle owners do with their vehicles even after they are getting their due in the form of taxes?
Remember the time when Uber and Ola launched two-wheeler taxis in Bengaluru? It died a natural death because the government refused to allow it. UberMoto is now successfully plying across Hyderabad with approvals from the government.
Take the case of HSR Layout in Bengaluru, which incidentally is the location of Uber’s local office. Spread over approximately 1,500 acres, it is divided into six sectors. Barring one main road, and services along Outer Ring Road, there are no BMTC buses that enter HSR Layout in spite of huge bus shelters being placed across a few locations. Auto-rickshaws demand exorbitant rates due to the relatively short distances within HSR Layout, and its location makes it expensive to reach in autos. With such a lack of public transport, many residents of the ‘information technology capital of India’, prefer to pool. Employees of start-ups, small-scale enterprises and even businesspersons choose to pool due to its relatively low fare and convenience. Some users even engage in conversations with co-passengers and drivers during the ordeal that is called a commute. With BMTC cancelling close to 6,000 trips a day in December 2016, one can imagine how bad the situation must be.
By banning pooling services, the government has ensured the following:
One can imagine the congestion that would be the result of this move. The danger now may be that Karnataka takes a leaf out of Delhi’s book and implements something as impractical as the ‘odd-even scheme’ to control the flow of vehicles, which in turn will result in bad productivity.
Dear Karnataka administration, with your overzealous regulations, you are taking the state back to the 1980s. Regulations like these will mess up Bengaluru’s traffic and force more people to think of relocating and settling elsewhere. If the state cannot improve the situation, the least it can do is let the private sector handle it.
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