A day after the Transport Department of Delhi asked app-based mobility players such as Uber, Ola, and Rapido to stop their bike taxi services, two-wheeler rides were available on all three apps as usual, with drivers clueless about the order.
“What ban? Is it only for bikes, or are cabs banned, too?” asked 26-year-old Rahul Kumar during a trip from Sarita Vihar to ITO on Tuesday afternoon. When told about the Delhi government’s directive, and the fine if caught, he was shocked.
“Rs 5,000! That’s my savings in two weeks. Do they want us to be jobless?” said Kumar, a native of Bhagalpur in Bihar, who works at Shahi Exports in Faridabad, but decided to become a partner-rider with Uber on the side because his salary of Rs 12,000 a month wasn’t enough to support his family of seven back home.
The availability of bikes across cities has risen since the outbreak of the pandemic, as many lost jobs and saw an opportunity to tie-up with the app-based aggregators. “I have been riding bikes for Uber for over two years now. I used to work with an advertising agency and put up billboards, posters, etc. It was a salaried job, but I was laid off during the pandemic,” Ajay Kumar, 40, told this correspondent during a ride from Noida to Sarita Vihar on Tuesday. A cab ride on the route would cost between Rs 350 and Rs 400, while the bike ride came for Rs 163.
“The funniest part is that nobody told us anything. If a challan is issued, nobody will be there to help us,” he said.
Unlike autos and taxis, bike drivers do not have any union. “We are completely on our own. From the traffic police to the government and even the aggregator we are working for… we are nobody’s children. There is no point person at the aggregator who can give us information. I can only hope someone at the call centre can help,” said Ashwani Rana, who stays in Gurugram but spends most of his time in Delhi, since the demand for bike rides in the capital is higher than elsewhere in the National Capital Region (NCR).
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Besides being a source of livelihood for hundreds (there is no data on the number of bikers), bike taxis offer cheaper and faster commutes to many, especially in parts where metro rail services are not available.
Avneesh Ravindran, who stays in Noida Sector 25 and commutes daily to his office at Green Park, often books a bike ride. “There are days when a cab costs me over Rs 700-800, but if I take a bike, the cost is halved. Besides, it’s often a faster mode of transport. This order doesn’t make a lot of sense,” the 30-year-old sales executive said.
“Bike taxis have made life easier for middle-income people who can’t always take the metro or keep spending on cabs,” said Shweta Keshri, a journalist, who commutes from Mayur Vihar to her office in Noida daily. She, too, opts for bike taxis.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court refused to grant relief to bike taxi aggregator Rapido against the Maharashtra government’s refusal to grant it a licence. Rapido, Ola and Uber have stopped bike taxi operations in Maharashtra as well.
Sohil Shah, principal associate, Pioneer Legal, explained that according to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, a transport or commercial vehicle must obtain a permit (commercial number plate – yellow and black) from the respective state government/regional transport authority, before being put to commercial use.
“Therefore, whether a two-wheeler is allowed to have a commercial number plate will depend on the rules and regulations of the respective states. For instance, governments of Maharashtra and Delhi have banned two-wheelers from being used as commercial vehicles, whereas West Bengal allows the use of two-wheelers as bike taxis,” he said. The aggregators will have to either challenge the government notifications in Maharashtra and Delhi before the respective high courts or wait until such services are allowed, he said.
Pointing out the need for a central regulatory framework to address the issue, Dilip Chenoy, former secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Ficci), and former director general of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam), said, “Commercial taxes are higher than private vehicle taxes, and no state government would want to lose out on revenue. Besides, in the event of an unforeseen incident involving a bike taxi, who is responsible? A commercial registration will help better regulation.”
Business Standard contacted Uber and Ola for their response on how they plan to inform the drivers about the ban, and what their next move would be. However, both did not respond.
Far away from the regulations and the guidelines, a different story is playing out on the roads: One of defiance. “I learnt about the ban in the morning, but left home as usual. I have no option. I pray and hope that I am not stopped at the traffic signals, I have a family to feed, and this is all I can do now,” Ajay Kumar said.