New Motor Vehicles Act spurs ride-hailing firms to lobby for concessions

Taxi aggregators are pushing the central government to provide them with an all-India “digital intermediary” operator licence, allow car-pool services as part of the drivers’ permit, and not impose any restrictions on surge pricing, which has been a bone of contention between them and riders.

The effort is part of the consultation process between ride-hailing companies and the Ministry of Roadways and Highways after the amended Motor Vehicles Act became a law. Under the new Act, taxi aggregators, including Uber, Ola and Meru, among others, have been recognised as digital intermediaries that can be used by riders to connect with the driver. The new law also gives the central government the power to frame rules and regulations on running their business. In the earlier Act, the aggregators were not even acknowledged.  

However, taxi aggregators say that the rules can be tweaked by the state governments as transportation is part of the concurrent list. 

Ride-hailing services are also lobbying the government for the recognition of a new category for motorcycle-shared services, where the owner should not have to take a commercial licence.  “We are suggesting that an individual with a motor bike should be allowed to pick up a pillion through our platform and the customer will be charged only his or her share of the cost of operating the  vehicle for the stipulated distance without the intention of making a profit. In that case, the bike owner should not have to take a commercial licence. This will help in getting more riders without increasing the number of two-wheelers on the roads. (In the NCR, for instance, two-wheelers constitute 70 per cent of the vehicular traffic.) This would lead to more efficient use of existing resources,” says a senior executive of a leading aggregator. 

They are also pressing the government to allow shared motorcycle services across the country since this is limited to only a few states now. For example, Delhi does not allow it. 

The other item on the taxi aggregators’ wish list is that the government should not impose stiff regulations on the quality standards of their vehicles. They say that owing to the large sizes of their fleet, it is not possible for them to physically verify the condition of each vehicle. However, they can use the rating system of riders to determine whether a driver should be taken off the road or penalised. They also want to ensure that the onus of any violation of the new norms of the Motor Vehicles Act would lie on the owner of the vehicle, and not on the aggregator.

However, non-government agencies insist that the onus of safety should be squarely on the aggregators and not only on the drivers. Says Piush Tiwari of SaveLIFE Foundation and a key player behind the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act: “They (aggregators) are the gateway through which  commercial vehicles reach riders. If you look at the recruitment rules, these don’t even mention anything on safety. So for basic safety issues such as ensuring working safety belts in the rear or discouraging dangerous riding, the onus should be on the aggregators to pay for any failures.” 

The new law recommends a fine of Rs 5000 for dangerous driving. Pooled services is another area where taxi aggregators are hoping to make the government listen to them.

At present, it is a grey area, with some states permitting it and others not. “We would like to impress upon the government that pooling is key to a cost-effective transportation system. It also reduces congestion,” says a top executive at a ride-hailing service.  Aggregators also complain they have the licence to operate in only a few states such as Karnataka and Rajasthan. Hence, they have asked the government to provide them with an all-India permit.

As for surge pricing, they are trying to convince the government that the system is aimed at greater efficiency and reliability rather than at making profits. They argue that without surge pricing during peak hours, some riders may not be able to get a vehicle.

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