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Complicating carpooling

K. Raveendran explains how riders are caught between a 1988 Act and bureaucracy

Complicating carpooling

New Delhi: If bureaucrats had their way, they would have long stopped the earth from revolving around the sun. At least they would have issued an order banning it. Because they live on the earth, and by revolving around the sun, the earth is making their heads spin. And if at all anything must revolve, it can be the other way around: the sun can revolve while the earth stays stationary, which will still produce day and night as only the parts of earth facing the sun will have light falling on them while the other parts will remain dark. Then they will assign a certain fancy name and number to the rule and prosecute both sun and the earth for violation.

What else can explain the move by Delhi bureaucrats, headed by politician-turned activist bureaucrat Arvind Kejriwal, to ban app-based sharing taxi, such as Uber, Ola, and others? According to reports, the Delhi government is in the process of finalising the City Taxi Scheme 2017, under which ride sharing will be illegal. The reason: "the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 doesn't allow vehicles run on contract carriage permit, under which taxis operate, to pick up multiple passengers. A contract carriage vehicle can only be booked once for taking a passenger or passengers from one point to another. Only vehicles with a stage carriage permit, such as public service buses, can pick up and drop passenger at multiple points".
What a pity that the framers of the 1988 rule did not have any clue that there would be something called an app, which will allow riders, meaning more than one rider, to book a taxi, operating under the weird name of Uber, Ola and a host of others in different cities?
"We can't go against law and had come up with an idea to somehow bypass the rules and allow shared rides," a Times of India report quoted a Transport Department official as saying. "The plan was that the cab will be booked by the first person boarding it and he or she would pay for the ride, which is permissible. The app will then allow other users to board the cab as well, as long as the first user allows so. The users could then share the cost between themselves without the involvement of the driver or the cab aggregator. This way, the app-based cab aggregator will only play the role of a facilitator and wouldn't be taking multiple bookings, which is not allowed," the source, obviously a bureaucrat, explained.
A colleague of his was a little more considerate: "In principle, we are in favour of cab sharing as it not only provides affordable commuting option to passengers but also reduces the number of vehicles on roads. However, such operations don't come under the present legal framework as taxis are only allowed to be hired from one point to another and cannot pick and drop passengers," he was quoted as saying.
He is right. There can only be one point and another, allowing for no half points— points are like truth: there is only one truth and no half-truths, and there can be no pick-up and drop. If you want you can book a cab and let it run without any passenger; so you can still have the app and no law will be violated!
But then, there is no hope for the app either. The Delhi Government's Transport Department had apparently requested the Department of Electronic and Information Technology (DEITY) to block the web-based apps of three major taxi operators, citing complaints that these were still operating in the Capital despite being unregistered and legally not allowed to ply.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has no issues with the app or shared pool. In a tweet, he said he agreed that ride-sharing was a good idea... his concern is women safety. He fears that sharing a ride with strangers may not be safe for women. Maybe, he can ask for the app to play the cop as well.
Governments all over the world are encouraging carpooling, in whatever way it is possible, app with cop or without, to help the environment and the earth. This is even true of Middle East countries, where the world thinks the rules are more archaic, although in reality it is no so. Authorities in cities such as Dubai, known to implement rules by the book, have allowed carpooling, under a well-regulated mechanism, although they have stricter rules about public transport, because they realise that carpooling is an idea whose time has come.
Pool riding has become immensely popular with riders and, according to reports, more than 30 per cent of all cab rides in Delhi are shared. Ola even reported a five-fold increase in shared rides in a year. But the problem is that the riders are caught between the 1988 Act and bureaucracy, one of which needs to be killed if a solution is to be found.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

K Raveendran

K Raveendran

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