The Archaic Regulation Preventing Carpooling Services, And Why It Needs To Be Scrapped

Srikanth Ramakrishnan

Feb 03, 2017, 09:25 PM | Updated 09:24 PM IST

Ola (PTI)
Ola (PTI)
  • Karnataka government has banned carpooling services in the state. This means that Uber and Ola’s ride-sharing services will have to be stopped.
  • This is an unfortunate development since ride-sharing helps in reducing the extent of traffic on the streets and is an eco-friendly measure.
  • Turns out, there’s a certain piece of regulation that is preventing carpooling services in the state. This must be scrapped for the benefit of the state’s residents.
  • The dispute between the Karnataka government and cab aggregators on the recent ban on carpooling services across the city has received a mixed response. While auto-rickshaw drivers and call taxi operators are happy, the common man doesn’t seem to be so.

    This author had written earlier about how excessive regulation was crippling Karnataka’s transport economy and causing problems such as rising levels of congestion on Bengaluru’s streets, while also forcing commuters to shell out more.

    It is worth going over Uber’s response to the government and what the government is really trying to say.

    The Government of Karnataka has explicitly stated that since cabs are classified as contract carriages and not stage carriages, they cannot pick up or drop passengers during the journey. By this reasoning, it is also clear that share autos that operate in several cities are also illegal. Why, then, hasn’t the government taken action against them?

    Stage carriage vs contract carriage

    While the Karnataka Motor Vehicles Act of 1957 has no explanation for the two terms, stage carriage and contract carriage, they are clearly defined under the ambit of the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 that operates at the central level.

    “contract carriage” means a motor vehicle which carries a passenger or passengers for hire or reward and is engaged under a contract, whether expressed or implied, for the use of such vehicle as a whole for the carriage of passengers mentioned therein and entered into by a person with a holder of a permit in relation to such vehicle or any person authorised by him in this behalf on a fixed or an agreed rate or sum—“stage carriage” means a motor vehicle constructed or adapted to carry more than six passengers excluding the driver for hire or reward at separate fares paid by or for individual passengers, either for the whole journey or for stages of the journey;

    The definitions are quite clear; one would assume that cabs are classified as contract carriages and buses as stage carriages. According to the Karnataka government, the stage carriage permit, which allows pick-ups and drops along a route, can only be accorded to Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation and school and college buses.

    In a written statement, an Uber spokesperson said UberPool was operating legally because when a rider chooses to pool, there is an explicit agreement between the rider and the driver, thus making a single pool ride equivalent to multiple cab rides in legal terms.

    (Carl Court/Getty Images)
    (Carl Court/Getty Images)
    UberPOOL is a product that enables driver partners to pick up and drop identified riders through the Uber App under a single contract. When a rider chooses UberPOOL through the Uber App, he/she consents to another person sharing the trip. There is a clear understanding between all the riders on the trip and the driver partner that the trip and the vehicle will be shared. The App also identifies all the riders and the driver partner. The law permits a contract carriage permit holder to stop to pick up or set down passengers who are included in the contractual understanding with the driver. UberPool fulfills this requirement and we believe that it does not violate the contract carriage permit. We will continue to engage with the transport department and Karnataka government as ridesharing products like UberPOOL are the future of urban mobility, helping decongest cities by getting more people into fewer cars and letting riders move around their city more affordably.

    Uber also stated that the UberPool platform saved around 93,64,772km of driving and 4,40,623 litres of fuel, and reduced over 10,37,000kg of carbon dioxide.

    In December 2015, bus aggregator ZipGo was forced to shut down its operations under the same reasoning used today against carpool services.

    Watch: Karnataka government’s ban on carpooling services

    While the Motor Vehicles Act also has different types of vehicle categories such as invalid carriage for disabled users, tourist carriage for tourist vehicles and so on, what needs to be done is removing the stage versus contract classification. A vehicle can act either as a stage carriage or a contract carriage, and the law makes it difficult to switch to the other type.

    Further, given the monopoly that BMTC buses have as stage carriages, wouldn’t it be unfair to the private sector when they (BMTC buses) act as contract carriages when leased out? Why this discrimination against the private sector?

    Deregulation and decentralisation

    Deregulation is important. The government has made it clear ample times that it cannot meet the requirements of a city like Bengaluru, let alone the rest of the state. Why then it doesn’t let the private sector help the situation and make profits along the way is anyone’s guess, but it is clear that the government wants to retain a monopoly.

    Another key aspect to keep in mind here is jurisdiction. Uber and Ola operate in multiple cities in the state, including Bengaluru, Mysuru and Mangaluru. The law treats all cities the same since it is at the state level. How would the Karnataka government know the ground reality of other cities sitting here in Bengaluru? The Karnataka government would probably be unaware of the facts in the matter in cities such as Belagavi and Hubbali-Dharwad in the northern part of the state. Ideally, the district and civic administration should have more say in such matters. In our federal structure, the power to regulate and deregulate must not stop at the state level, but should seep into further levels under the state.

    Srikanth’s interests include public transit, urban management and transportation infrastructure.

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