Uber restarts operations in Delhi, applies for license

US-based taxi-hailing service Uber, again played with fire on Friday after it restarted operations in New Delhi without waiting for an approval from the transport authority. The company, banned in the national capital a month ago, applied for a licence under the amended radio-taxi legislation in Delhi on Thursday.

The authority has directed enforcement agencies to confiscate vehicles plying on Delhi roads through the Uber network. “They have been banned in Delhi and they can’t operate till they get a licence,” said a source, adding the company had “no consideration for our [Indian] laws and will have to face penalties for the breach”.

TaxiForSure and Olacabs have also applied for licences while continuing to operate in the capital. The source said the authority had launched a similar operation to confiscate vehicles operating through the network of Olacabs, which was also banned.

Uber has applied for a licence through a subsidiary, Resource Expert India, registered in Bengaluru and with an office in Pitampura in Delhi. The source said the subsidiary would help Uber avoid any liability in the future and it remained to be seen if the subsidiary could apply under a different name, even as the mobile app continued to be called “Uber”.  The company did not respond to questions regarding the subsidiary.

On Friday morning, Uber said it had applied under the radio-taxi scheme “to reflect our commitment to providing riders with new options for safe and reliable transportation, including the ability to request a radio taxi on demand”. An official added Uber, hoping to get the licence “soon”, decided to restart operations after its drivers staged a protest for three days and consumers demanded the company start services again.   

But Uber will work with the authorities and do “anything and everything to be compliant” with the amended radio-taxi regulations that even includes clauses contrary to the company’s business model. Under a Supreme Court mandate, all public vehicles in Delhi have to run on compressed natural gas (CNG), considered as a major impediment to the expansion of Uber and its likes. However, Uber will build a CNG car network, its official said, parrying questions on the fate of drivers who had petrol or diesel cars, many of whom have taken loans to buy their vehicles.

Nevertheless, the development comes as a relief to Uber’s big network of drivers. It said it had strengthened security checks after an alleged rape led to the ban. The company also said though it had applied for a licence, it would give users an option to book a radio taxi alongside its previous services that would continue as before. The company operates through this model in various other cities, such as Singapore and New York. Uber officials argued taxis in their network were different from radio taxis as the latter could be hailed from the street, while the former could only be booked through the app. Hence, the company believes it would be better if it were governed by information technology laws.

Recently, the police of Bidhannagar, a satellite town near Kolkata, introduced new regulations for on-demand transport technology aggregators, classifying these companies under the Information Technology (IT) Act instead of the Motor Vehicles Act. “We are hopeful the Delhi government will follow the leadership shown by authorities in Bidhannagar, Kolkata, who have developed a new progressive framework that embraces innovation, supports consumer choice and ensures the safety of riders,” Uber said in a note to consumers that announced its return and offered a 25 per cent discount on each ride.

“They are not conventional transport service providers. We believe bringing them under the ambit of IT Act, 2000, will ensure stricter regulations on such service. As they will be treated as IT companies, they will also have to go through technological upgrade, ensuring stricter regulations,” said Ranendranath Banerjee, deputy commissioner (traffic), Bidhannagar Commissionerate.

The new Bidhannagar regulations ask companies, including radio-taxi operators, to set up a grievance redress system, under which a customer care number and contact details of the incharge have to be made public. All companies will have to develop two apps within a month: one giving the details submitted to the commissionerate along with drivers’ photos, so that a passenger can verify the driver and registration number before boarding the vehicle; second a safety app allowing passengers to make distress calls to the nearest police station and share their locations with up to five persons. Like any other company, these will also have a grievance officer, whose details, too, will be with the police. Moreover, operators will have to ensure drivers undergo gender-sensitisation programmes.

However, the company has not clarified how it planned to meet the requirements of the amended radio-taxi legislation, under which it would be governed in Delhi, that include having a “Radio Taxi” board on top of vehicles along with the name of the company written on both sides of the vehicle. These are difficult conditions since Uber does not own the cars in its network.

With inputs from Arindam Majumder and Probal Basak from Kolkata

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