On getting a copy of the rules issued for online cab aggregators by the Karnataka Government, MediaNama spoke with HG Kumar, the Additional Commissioner for Transport and Secretary of the State Transport Authority (STA) of Karnataka to learn more about what processes aggregators will need to follow to open or sustain shop in the state. Kumar, who functions as a senior officer of the transport department, also has to make sure as the secretary of the STA, that companies follow the guidelines issued by the government.
Here’s a slightly edited version of the interview:
MediaNama: What are the next steps for companies or individuals with respect to the rules which have been issued?
HG Kumar: The new rules have been announced in the gazette and you’re given 30 days time to file objections. It is not our responsibility to inform cab companies about the rules after we’ve already published it in the gazette.
MediaNama: Companies should also have a fare meter, which they don’t right now…
HG Kumar: Meru Cabs and Megacabs have these meters, the fare can also be sent to the customer by emails and SMS, which is also permissible.
MediaNama: Why is it necessary for a driver to be a resident of Karnataka for 5 years?
HG Kumar: This was included because it is necessary to know the geographical area of Bangalore, the language, the culture, the people, everything.
MediaNama: Without that, a license cannot be issued?
HG Kumar: Yes, they have to fulfill all these obligations.
MediaNama: When you say that the driver should not be convicted of multiple offences, how do you plan to check it? How do you make sure that the companies or individuals are following it?
HG Kumar: We call for reports of all the applicants from the Police Department.
MediaNama: What about the fares which should not be higher than what the government has issued?
HG Kumar: The fare has already been fixed by the Government at Rs 19.5/km. The minimum is Rs 200, after which it should be Rs 19.5 per km. This is applicable across the state and smaller cities like Mangalore and Mysore and any city within the state should be able to follow this.
MediaNama: What is dead mileage?
HG Kumar: From the time that the driver starts and reaches the order, he has to travel up to the passenger’s house. That’s called dead mileage, which will not be computed. The fare and mileage is only from the pickup point and the destination of the passenger.
MediaNama: Why is the glow ‘Taxi’ sign been made compulsory?
HG Kumar: This is so that even in the night, the taxi sign should glow so that the passenger can easily identify that vehicle among other vehicles.
MediaNama: How long do cab companies need to maintain records for? How often do you plan to check these records?
HG Kumar: We’ll check these records quarterly.
MediaNama: There are a lot of consumer complaints against drivers for cancelling the cabs, how will these be addressed?
HG Kumar: If we receive any serious complaints against them, we’re going to suspend or cancel the permit.
MediaNama: Wouldn’t it be helpful if consumers had a common database of drivers who were suspended across multiple services? There’s no recommendation like that, is there a chance of it being added in the permanent rules?
HG Kumar: There’s no recommendation yet. The applicant must fulfill all the conditions imposed. Once the driver is barred, he can’t drive with any other company. For the license we’ll take action as well: we’re going to suspend licenses for only 6 months. This is a separate action, until suspension period is complete, he cannot attract business again.
MediaNama: Some of the drivers MediaNama spoke with said that they were not given trainings on joining the platform. Instead, they were asked to watch training videos.
HG Kumar: Now it is mandatory for all companies to train the drivers in behaviour, gender sensitisation and other things at least once a year.
MediaNama: Why is the feedback register made compulsory?
HG Kumar: This is because if they receive any customer complaint, they should be able to address it. Sometimes the customers are unable to complain to us, they straight away complain to the company. For this, they have to maintain a register where they have to record everything. Once we go for inspection, they have to show it to us.
MediaNama: How often would you carry out such an inspection?
HG Kumar: We’ll do it every 3 months.
MediaNama: The draft states that taxi service should be available 24×7, which is not the case right now. The availability of cabs goes down drastically after midnight and sometimes getting a cab means dealing with increased (like surge) pricing…
HG Kumar: Whatever the rate, it should not exceed Rs 19.5 per km. That’s what we’ve fixed and it cannot be exceeded.
MediaNama: What about availability of cabs?
HG Kumar: That is upto the companies, they have to make arrangements.
MediaNama: Where should the policy on the taxi fare be published? And why is it necessary to put a cap on surge pricing?
HG Kumar: This should be on the website for every city. For fares, the limit is the fixed Rs 19.5 per km. We haven’t said anything about surge pricing or any other pricings, we’ve clearly stated that whatever rate the government has set should not be exceeded. That’s all.
MediaNama: For grant and renewal of licenses, how did you decide on Rs 100,000 and Rs 50,000 as fees?
HG Kumar: These are all big and multinational companies, they have to pay, they have to make deposits. They have investments of nearly Rs 200-300 crores, so Rs 100,000 is the minimum fixed amount.
MediaNama: What kind of comments and feedback did you get on the previous guidelines issued by the transport ministry?
HG Kumar: The central government issued these guidelines which formed the basis of these (Karnataka) rules. If the companies have any objections or suggestions, they can send it to the government within 30 days of making the guidelines public. The government will consider the comments and take action based on the objections and suggestions.
MediaNama: Have any of the companies approached you yet?
HG Kumar: The suggestions have to go to the transport department, not here. All will be considered by the government.
MediaNama: Who all are included in the panel which formed these guidelines?
HG Kumar: It’s not a panel, the (transport) secretary will decide himself.