cab-cc

The Maharashtra Government released its draft of City Taxi Rules 2016 for online cab aggregators earlier this month for the Mumbai metropolitan area. Among its requirements was that app based taxis run on clean fuel, have a designated uniform and not accept street hails. The government will finalise these rules on 5th of November, taking into consideration suggestions from all the involved stakeholders.

Let’s take a look at how this affects Ola and Uber’s users, the companies and drivers:

Short take: An overview of these rules suggest that the government is already asking for a number of things that have already been implemented by online cab aggregators. The government should remember that it is the governing body in the country and not private companies which have started or set up base in India. It would have been good to see some future proof and even more progressive guidelines which would take into account the problems of a ridesharing economy (some listed here), like for example addressing issues faced by traditional means of transport, public transport, increasing urbanisation and internet penetration (which is really only going to propel the use of such services) and create a truly world class level playing field along with accountability. Yes, while companies are making money, they are also creating micro economies and helping address transport to an extent. People use these services because they find them convenient and traditional options fail to deliver in multiple cases.

The good:
Clean fuel is good. The number of taxis has been increasing exponentially over the years as more and more drivers join Ola and Uber. Car manufacturers are now focusing on attaching their vehicles to ride sharing platforms (see here and here) in addition to individual car sales because they see good potential there. However, the problem of pollution remains constant, so much so that our pollution is visible from space.
– At least the Maharashtra government has not proposed a cap on the number of vehicles that a company can have.
A record of a non-working GPS will help with accountability for the company. This way, users won’t be charged for random routes even if they have booked a cab through an aggregator.
– Taxis allowed to carry ads: more income for the company from advertising.
Drivers cannot have a criminal record.
– Licensee to hire as many women drivers as possible. Companies should actively take this step. 
– Licensee will have driver trainings at least once a year. We think that this could be higher, given the number of drivers who ask for directions and sometimes can be outright rude to customers.
Owner of vehicle can convert vehicle to other permits including private category vehicle. This is important in case a driver or a car owner thinks that running with aggregators is not a viable option for them.
– Black and yellow taxis can be attached to any license under these rules and are free to operate under a different license (its original permit) 1 month after operating on the changed license. This rule is especially useful for traditional taxi drivers who claim their business is being eaten by aggregators. In fact, Ola already does aggregate traditional taxis in Kolkata.

The unnecessary:
– Cabs cannot accept street hails. By default, online cab aggregators give drivers the freedom to work hours they’re comfortable with. Users would notice that there are cabs available even in the dead of the night because of this. People who own cars attached to online platforms sometimes even hire drivers to work in shifts so that their car is running at all times. When a driver decides to switch off working on their platform, they’re free to take street hails or do their personal work however it suits them. We imagine that no-street-hails is in place because the government does not want cab aggregators to earn money which is not accounted for. But really, autorickshaws overcharge all the time and forgo metered and regulated fares, so it doesn’t make much sense in case a driver is going to earn some money on his own anyway. This rule just makes it appear as if the government wants to be strict but cannot find a better method to do so.
– A physical register for feedback: While some may say that this is a good thing, physical registers can be lost or fudged, whereas digital feedback is logged and recorded in the company’s system.
– At least half of the fleet of cars should have engine capacity of more than 1400 cc. This is really unnecessary because it is sedans which generally have an engine capacity of more than 1400 cc. Uber is right to call this unviable and will likely dump those costs on its users, given that neither does it own cars nor does it hire and rent them. Choice is a beautiful thing, and so is affordability of transport.
– Separate colour scheme for taxis under this permit, black and yellow taxis will continue with their colour scheme. This is no good because online cab companies have attracted unwanted attention at railways stations, airports and other popular public spaces where users would get cabs from, resulting in physical damage to the vehicles because autorickshaw and traditional taxi drivers accuse them of taking their business. As long as the car has a commercial driving license and the right permit, it should ideally not matter if there’s a colour scheme in place. Colour segregation is just really adding to the cost of buying a car and then getting it painted or buying a particular coloured car.
– Driver to have uniform approved by the government or as per company’s design. More costs for a driver and the company? Why?

Where the government is asking for accountability:
– Vehicles to have mobile radio, web or app platform for 2 way communication. This is already in place.
– Licensee shall maintain call centre or operate through an authorised call centre or web portal or app. This is a requirement in case of an emergency.
– Should have a web portal with all details of its ownership, registered address, services offered, fare structure, insurance liabilities, control room details, name and contact details of grievance officer. This is already in place.
Driver should know the roads and routes of areas of operation to not inconvenience passengers. (Hello, Yola Cabs!) We imagine that in cities in Mumbai, this is not much of a problem, but in smaller cities, where drivers usually come from other parts of the state, companies could provide a small training on the geographical area of the city to avoid inconvenience.
– 25% vehicles to be inducted at the time of grant of license, 50% within 3 months after grant of license, 75% within 6 months and 100% within 9 months. Companies currently aggregating cabs already have over 400,000 vehicles across India. It doesn’t make sense to induct vehicles according to this government regulation.
– License can be cancelled if any of the terms are not met and/or employee of licensee or driver is guilty of misbehaviour or misconduct with passenger. This is necessary as more and more drivers join the platform. Accountability is a must. Cancelling of license is a little harsh but we imagine that companies will train their drivers better with this.
– Fares should prescribe to minimum and maximum fare limits by the government and vehicle engine capacity should not exceed 2,000 CC. This is a mixed bag, while Uber argues that surge pricing allows it to keep vehicles on the street, there are times when costs go so high that only users from a certain income group can afford those rides, even at times of an emergency.
– Passengers should have an option to submit grievances through app, web or service phone number and the grievance should be resolved in 15 days.
– License holder should inform the authority when they shift offices, keep premises, records and registers available for inspection at all times, cooperate with the authorities with respect to information, display license prominently in office, maintain serially numbered feedback register in all vehicles.

The other good parts:
– Vehicles to have a first aid box.
– Vehicles can’t be older than 20 years and need to be replaced once they hit 20.
– Helpline numbers of RTO, police and women’s helpline need to be displayed inside the vehicle.
– Driver details with photo, license number, PSV badge number, registration mark etc to be displayed.
– No tinted glass, curtains or films on the vehicles.
– Vehicles with AITP permits cannot operate under these rules. AITP permits can be converted to MCTR, 2016 if an app is provided as a sub-rule, 3 months from when the rules are released.
– Licensee to offer services 24/7.
– Vehicle to ply only in geographical limits of the transport organisation.
– Realtime location sharing with 5 people in their safety network and be able to contact local police in case of an emergency.
– Owner of vehicle can convert vehicle to other permits including private category vehicle.
– Black and yellow taxis can be attached to any license under these rules and are free to operate under a different license (its original permit) 1 month after operating on the changed license.

Also read: Why Karnataka’s cab aggregator rules are good, bad and ambiguous

Image credit: Damian Moore under CC BY SA 2.0