The Bangalore Transport Department has asked Ola to stop offering its bike taxi services in Bangalore, reports the Economic Times. The report cited Narendra Holkar, the Additional Commissioner of Transport and Secretary of the State Transport Authority, as saying that he has directed the department’s officials to seize taxis if found operating and penalise them. Holkar cited a lack of policy as the rationale for the seizures and penalties.

However, according to a Hindu report, the department has already seized around 200 Ola and Rapido (another bike taxi service) bikes after officers posed as customers, apparently booking cases against the operators and fining them Rs 2,000. MediaNama could not independently verify this. Note that the seizing of vehicles has happened in 2017 as well.

Ola refused to comment for this story, and we’ve reached out to Rapido. Uber does not currently operate bike taxis in Bangalore, it said. The Karnataka Transport Department, STA and BMRTC could not be reached till publish time.

Last August, the transport department said that it was looking into the concept of bike taxis and whether they could be feasible in the city. It cited women’s safety and the safety of passengers as its concerns.

Pilot limbo

ET reports that Ola was running the bike taxis on a pilot for a week, which seems repetitive because Ola first launched its bike taxis in the city 3 years ago, in March 2016. Days after its launch, the Karnataka State Transport department deemed Ola’s and Uber’s bike taxi services illegal, since they did not have permits to operate as commercial vehicles in Bangalore.

At the time, Bangalore’s Commissioner for Transport & Road Safety, Dr Ramegowda, told MediaNama that Ola and Uber had to get permission from the state Road Transport Authority (RTA) in order to operate in the city, and that operating them was a violation of the central Motor Vehicles Act. In May 2016, Uber “paused” its UberMOTO bike taxi service in Bangalore to share the findings of the pilot, 3 months after its launch.

Hide and seek

Bike taxis are illegal in the state, there are no regulations looking at their legality and apparently, the Transport Department is working on a policy with stakeholders to decide whether bike taxis can be allowed in the city, if not the state.

However, it is also unclear as to what licenses and permits bike taxis need to operate, precisely given the lack of regulation. Bike taxis would need to be commercially insured and pliable vehicles with yellow number plates, regulations for safety, etc.

Only Goa and Haryana allow bike taxis so far. According to a Quartz report, Telangana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh started authorising commercial bike taxis since December 2017. In December last year, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways told the Karnataka state government that it was free to regulate bike taxi services. Also, a state-appointed committee was to submit its report on the feasibility of bike taxis in the city to the government in November 2018, but it doesn’t seem that that has happened yet.

At the moment, only the Motor Vehicles Act regulates the private transport sector, and it has not caught up with bike taxis. India is not alone in being stumped by technology based services. When cab aggregators Uber, Lyft and Ola and similar companies launched, global regulators scrambled to bring in regulation for these services. The companies, especially Uber, maintained that they were not a transportation, but a technology service which connected a rider and a driver, much like a marketplace platform.