When ride-hailing apps fail commuters, what could be the alternatives?

The transport department's knee-jerk reactions against ride-hailing apps may get them legal injunctions to operate. But can that be a long term solution?

Commuting in the city has only become harder for those who rely on public transport. Attesting to this, Deepa. P, a commuter, who travels regularly from Bommanahalli to Central Bengaluru District, says how this often compels commuters like her to use ride-hailing apps, like Uber and Ola, despite their prices.

In a previous article, we traced the city-wide circumstances that led up to a temporary ban on autos of ride-hailing apps, like Uber and Ola, in Bengaluru. This exposed the legal violations by the aggregators and practices that inconvenienced commuters and drivers alike.

The second part of the series will look at the regulations under which the apps operate and explore the market feasibility of union or state-backed apps as a viable alternative for commuters and drivers.

Regulation and licensing

The state road transport authorities are in charge of issuing licences. B.K Nafanand, an official from Regional Transport Office, Bengaluru East, says that the Additional Commissioners of Transport oversee the issuance of licences. In our earlier article, we wrote about how the court imposed an interim order on the ride-hailing apps for the lack of appropriate licences.

The operations of ride-hailing apps are governed by Motor Vehicles Aggregator guidelines 2020, Karnataka’s On Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules of 2016, and state-wise guidelines. “The Aggregator shall be permitted to charge a fare 50% lower than the base fare and a maximum Surge Pricing of 1 .5 times the base fare specified under Clause 13(1) herein above, ” states the Motor Vehicles Aggregator guidelines, 2020.

Read more: All app cabs must have rear seatbelts to minimise accident injuries

Additionally, the document also specifies that the driver of a vehicle shall receive at least 80% of the fare applicable on each ride. The clause mentions that customers availing services for a minimum of 3 kilometres or less, can be charged “to compensate for dead mileage, distance travelled and fuel utilised for picking up the customers.”

An unoperational metre in an auto booked through a ride-hailing app
Ride-hailing apps do not follow fare pricing set by the government, as per the meters. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

As per the 2020 guidelines, the licence is issued by the state government to the aggregator, under Section 93 of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. Nafanand says that the Additional Commissioners of Transport oversee the issuance of licences. “The said licence allows aggregators to integrate all motor vehicles and electronic or e-rickshaws onto their platform. However, unions decried the attachment of autos to the fleet in 2017.”

Because the licences of the said aggregators is reported to have expired in 2021, the Transport Department cannot take coercive action against the aggregators, who continue to operate upon the High Court orders. Attesting to this, Nafanand says: “Because of the order, we cannot question them on licensing.”

Transport department – toothless or mute bystander?

“As I understand, the aggregators came under the radar solely because of the complaints from commuters,” says Kaveri Medappa, a University of Sussex researcher studying app-based workers in Bengaluru. She adds that deceptive hiring and exploitation of workers since 2016 by driver partners has barely fazed the transport department.

She also criticises the knee-jerk reactions by the transport department in terms of levying a ban on the apps. “These reactionary decisions will only result in the aggregators obtaining legal injunctions that grant them the impunity to operate,” she says, adding that the companies have legal departments that know how to prolong cases and skirt the demands.

Presidents of both unions alleged corruption on behalf of the department and attested to ride-hailing companies having deep pockets. “The fact that they are not able to get these aggregators to adhere to the rules shows the negligence of the Transport Department,” Tanveer Pasha, the President of Ola Uber Driver’s and Owner’s Association, remarks.

“The department has been a mute spectator these past few years while the aggregators hiked fares and operated in violations,” says Pasha, voicing how the drivers have very little faith in the state agency.

Citing the instances where autos were seized and impounded instead of apps implementing the ban, Kaveri accuses the department of going against the drivers to protect the interests of these companies instead. The additional commissioners for transport were unavailable for comment.

Read more: One truck to transport both wet and dry waste: Why this is a problem

Namma Yatri – a viable alternative?

Touted as an alternative to Ola and Uber, the new app Namma Yatri, developed by Autorickshaw Drivers Union (ARDU), in collaboration with the Nandan Nilekani-backed Beckn Foundation, was formally launched on November 1st.

It had nearly 10,000 downloads this week, with approximately 2,500 auto drivers signing up for it. The app, which reduces service charges and aims to stick to state-fixed rates, is said to have been modelled after the Kochi-based Yatri app.

Deepa is of the opinion that fares in Namma Yatri would be closer to what she would originally pay to an auto driver. “I also feel like a large percentage of what I pay goes to the platforms, like Ola/Uber, instead of the auto drivers, ” she states, adding how Namma Yatri’s proposed participatory and stakeholder approach is refreshing. “As a customer, I will be happy if the pricing is fairer and I can directly interact with the auto driver,” she says.

Beta version of Namma Yatri app on PlayStore
The beta version of Namma Yatri is available for download. Source: Google Playstore

In terms of driver-friendliness, Manjunath. M, President of Adarsha Auto and Taxi Drivers’ Union further states that the app has an option where drivers can request commuters to compensate them for the ‘dead mileage’, instead of arbitrarily levying charges. As it is mutually amenable to both parties, this comes off as a better option.

“There is a clear demand for state intervention and government-affiliated ride-hailing services among drivers,” Kaveri says. Mantelingu AS, a driver who has been associated with these platforms for the past three years, says that as the app hasn’t been launched yet, it is difficult to comment on it being a viable alternative.

Testing market resilience

However, Kaveri cautions against the ambiguity of Namma Yatri’s financial model. “Unless it has a self-sustaining revenue model to compete against Uber and Ola’s massive capital undertakings, it will be hard for it to remain in the market.”

“Further, while ride-hailing applications are a commuting option, they should not be the only ones left for citizens,” adds Kaveri. Deepa voiced her concerns about commuting to areas in the city unconnected by buses, which compels one to surf through these apps to hitch pricey rides.

“What we need is stricter regulations in place for the apps. As long-term solutions, we need more sustainable forms of commuting in the form of well-funded public buses,” points out Kaveri.  

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