Fixing issues, not a total ban on aggregators, can solve the cab problem in Bengaluru
The Karnataka government’s ban on app-based ride-pooling services in Bengaluru is the antithesis of sustainable mobility in every sense.
The meeting, the first one after a long time, was called to discuss the fares amid complaints from cab drivers that their daily earnings have come down in the recent past.
Most driver-partners of Ola and Uber present in the hall were part of different unions. During the discussion, the drivers unanimously opposed ‘Ola Share’ and ‘UberPool’, insisting the ride-pooling services go against their interest. They wanted to know why such services — not permitted under the Motor Vehicle Act — had been allowed. In response, the transport department officials immediately directed Ola and Uber to withdraw the feature from their platforms. The drivers greeted the announcement with applause, while the representatives of aggregators watched in silence.
The transport department, senior officials say, would not have ordered the withdrawal of ‘Ola Share’ and ‘UberPool’ features if the cab drivers, key to the success of ride-pooling services, had not opposed them. While the orders were passed verbally, insiders say the department is yet to send official letters to Ola and Uber — suggesting the verbal direction was meant only to calm down the agitated drivers in the hall and that they have no real intention to clamp down on such popular services. There has been no seizure of cabs to date either.
Frequent deviations in the traffic-clogged and narrow roads, not-so-attractive earnings, concealing from drivers the exact fares charged from passengers and the task of carrying disparate passengers are some of the factors that possibly caused strong resentment and a tense situation at the meeting. Almost every driver was getting up from his seat to share his experience to build an argument in favour of banning ride-pooling.
“Just when I cross the Silk Board junction with much relief after spending a good 20 minutes in the signal, I get bookings that require me to take U-turn. In such instances, there is no option to cancel the booking and the stress to drive back is not worth the money we get. Some passengers do not even cross the road,” Bhushan Prasad (name changed), an Ola cab driver, told ET, sharing his experience of providing ride-pooling services. “And what we earn out of it is only Rs 8 to Rs 10 per kilometre, which is almost as cheap as travelling in an autorickshaw or an AC bus.”
The lack of transparency on what passengers pay and drivers earn is another factor that has constantly irked cab drivers. One cab driver had picked up three passengers from different locations in and around Koramangala and dropped them all at Electronic City, a distance of about 16 km. “It took me a whole hour and I was paid only Rs 158. While two passengers had made payments online, one passenger paid in cash and was charged Rs 90. The other two must have paid almost the same fare but I was paid very less,” another cab driver said requesting anonymity.
Similarly, several cab drivers, working for both Ola and Uber, showed the history of ride-pooling bookings, complaining that they did not get their due share. They said ride-pooling services were benefitting Ola and Uber more than the drivers especially when there are 3-4 passengers during the trip.
“This (what drivers say) is somewhat true,” said Jaspal Singh, founder of Valoriser Consultants, a transportation consulting firm. “The problem with ride-sharing services is that the payment is not very transparent for the drivers. The companies assure minimum price even if there is one customer. In this case, the companies lose some money. Thus, they don’t share the full profit when they have more passengers in the car,” he said.
Singh also concurred with the difficulties associated with ride-pooling services. “Our road network is not designed properly and is not suitable for such services. In western countries, there is a grid road network, which allows drivers to navigate quickly. The company may need to offer incentive structure to drivers and customers,” he said.
He, however, is against the idea of allowing drivers to choose the pickup and ride option in which case cab aggregators will not be able to offer the fastest commute option to passengers.
FIXING FARES FOR RIDE-POOLING
Nearly four years ago, both Ola and Uber introduced ride-pooling services in Bengaluru. The services quickly gained popularity as shared rides are cheaper than individual bookings and also reduce congestion. The transport department, however, is yet to fix the fares for ride-pooling services, a move that could have ensured fair play.
Industry sources said one out of 3 -4 rides in Bengaluru is a shared ride. While Ola and Uber have not disclosed the total number of rides they make in Bengaluru, officials in the transport department estimate that there are 60,000 cabs in Bengaluru offering Ola and Uber services.
Tanveer Pasha, president of Ola, TaxiforSure, Uber Owners and Drivers Association, said the union will extend its support to ride-pooling services if the effort put in by drivers is rewarded. “The department should form a committee and fix the prices for ridepooling services. The fare should not be as cheap as taking a bus. It should be driver-friendly,” he said. He also wanted the cab aggregators to disclose the fares charged from passengers.
ET reached out to Ola and Uber for comments, but both companies did not respond to email queries.
SHARED MOBILITY IS THE FUTURE
Several policy think tanks including Niti Aayog have been batting in favour of shared mobility for long. In its recent paper, Niti Aayog predicated that India would be a leader in shared mobility with shared miles expected to reach 35% of all the miles travelled by 2030 and 50% by 2040. The ministry of road transport and highways has also highlighted the need to liberalise existing taxi permit systems and promote sharing of buses, motorcycles, etc.
Social welfare minister Priyank Kharge, who earlier handled the IT portfolio, in a tweet said the state government was moving to form an innovation authority, which will allow new technologies to continue doing legal business till a policy is evolved. The implication in this case is ride-pooling should not face government’s wrath until the curbs imposed by Motor Vehicles Act are ironed out. But for that to happen the authority should first come into being.
Ashish Verma, associate professor (transportation systems engineering) at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, said the government should fix gaps instead of banning ride-sharing services. “We should do everything to make shared mobility attractive. The government should also keep in mind the interest of drivers and make cab aggregators more accountable,” he said.
Nitin Jain, a regular user of shared cabs, said the government should create a win-win situation for all, including drivers.
The transport department appears to have woken up to the need to encourage shared mobility only after receiving backlash for proposing a ban. Transport commissioner VP Ikkeri said the department will form a committee to study the pros and the cons. “We will talk to different stakeholders. The report will also come up with a fare structure for ride-pooling services and will be submitted to the state government in 15 days,” he said.