Monday Musings: State should formulate policies to monitor bike taxi trade Leave a comment

Around a decade ago, most cities in India including Pune witnessed a series of protests from auto-rickshaw drivers opposing the entry of cab aggregators who posed a challenge to their business. Later the opposition from auto drivers relented as both learnt to coexist creating more opportunities for each one as mobility in India substantially went up amid economic progress.

More than 10 years later, auto-rickshaw drivers in Pune are back on the streets, this time opposing bike taxis that have become popular among youngsters in the city where traffic these days is in a mess. It is mainly because of weak public transport, burgeoning private vehicles population, and poor road infrastructure.

The urban middle class has contributed to the rise in use of private vehicles which in a way are further adding to the traffic woes in the city. In this complex scenario, bike taxi offers viable last-minute connectivity to the end user which is affordable and sustainable through the recent introduction of electric bikes.

The issue of the bike taxi industry in Pune has been roiled ever since the concept became instantly popular with the residents. Currently, bike taxis regulation and permission issues lack clarity in terms of laws governing them, ranging from refusal of permission to operate by transport departments to time-consuming procedures for obtaining a commercial license. The bike service aggregators still do not find a firm footing on the ground to go ahead with their business due to fierce opposition from traditional transport behemoths like organised auto unions.

If one looks at the amount of time consumed for traversing across the city and severe traffic bottlenecks, it is easy to comprehend that two-wheelers are the most practical and quickest form of inland transport for people due to ease of accessibility. At a time when the government is making tall claims for its efforts to improve urban public transport, the municipal administrations must critically consider the promotion of bike taxis which can provide faster travel to commuters than private four-wheelers. While bike taxis are being used in some Indian cities, their use has been opposed citing state policy and statutes. With Pune witnessing heavy traffic congestion, bike taxis can provide convenient and affordable transport options which must be actively encouraged through regulations which provide safety to customers at an affordable cost.

India has a complex legal situation when it comes to bike taxis. According to the Constitution, road transport falls under the concurrent list which thereby allows both the Centre and state governments to frame and enforce rules and regulations on public transport.

The 1988 Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) stipulates a ‘contract carriage’ as a motor vehicle that ferries a passenger or passengers for hire or reward and is hired under contract. The contract is entered into with a person who holds a permit, and the travel journey is measured from one point to another without stopping to pick up or drop off a passenger between those two points.

Contract carriages include maxi cabs, motor vehicle that carries more than six but no more than 12 passengers, excluding the driver, for hire or reward and motor cars, motor vehicle that carries a maximum of six passengers, excluding the driver, for hire or reward.

As per the MVA Act, a motor vehicle cannot have less than four wheels. Hence a two-wheeled motorbike does not fit the legal definition of a motor vehicle and, therefore, cannot operate as a contract carriage.

However, both central and state government departments have long been mulling over the legalities of allowing bike taxis to operate in different cities. The central government allowed bikes to be used as transport vehicles and their registration as such, thereby permitting motorbikes to carry one pillion passenger on hire. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways committee in 2016 came to the conclusion that state transport departments can allow two-wheeler taxi permits on lines to metro city or city taxis.

The committee further noted that allowing bike taxis to conduct business would offer cost-effective last-mile connectivity solutions to the city commuters and also boost the economy through the utilisation of bikes which are idle assets.

In view of changing times where convenience matters the most, the state government must formulate policies aimed at bringing in regulations to monitor the bike taxi trade and grant them protection forces opposing their introduction. Suitable legislation can be drafted by the centre which can issue country-wide guidelines sanctioning permission to the industry and ensuring that necessary safeguard and protection is put in place.

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