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Uber Commute is ‘illegal’, should be stopped, says a taxi union in Telangana

Update at 4:19 PM: Uber has taken down the blog, dated January 4, 2019, which talked about the availability of Uber Commute in the following areas: Lingampally, Miyapur, Nizampet, Kukatpally, SR Nagar, Vengal Rao Nagar, Ameerpet, Panjagutta, Khairthabad, Banjara Hills, Yousufguda, Srinagar Colony, Jubilee Hills, Madhapur, Hitech City, Kondapur, Gachibowli, Kokapet, Tellapur. We have archived the webpage here.

Another blog on Uber’s website, dated January 18, 2019, which mentions that “Currently, Commute is only available across Hyderabad except for the Airport,” is still online. It is worth mentioning that we hadn’t linked out to this webpage when we reported on the story earlier this afternoon. This blog has been archived here.

Earlier at 1 pm:  In a letter to Telangana’s Minister of Labour and Employment, the Telangana State Taxi and Drivers Joint Action Committee has called for “putting a stop” to Uber Commute, the company’s private car pooling service since it is “illegal”, and contradicts the Motor Vehicles Act, 2019 (letter below). The union met with Minister Malla Reddy on February 19 to put forth their concerns about the service, and also called for a meeting between a delegation of Ola/Uber drivers organisations, Reddy, and other ministry officials “at the earliest”. The JAC represents over 35,000 drivers in Hyderabad, including 8 Ola and Uber unions. We have reached out to Uber for comment.

Uber Commute, which was launched in Hyderabad in January 2019, allows private car owners to turn their vehicle into an Uber ride “without needing a commercial driving licence or a yellow number plate”. According to Uber’s website, the service is currently available in Lingampally, Miyapur, Nizampet, Kukatpally, SR Nagar, Vengal Rao Nagar, Ameerpet, Panjagutta, Khairthabad, Banjara Hills, Yousufguda, Srinagar Colony, Jubilee Hills, Madhapur, Hitech City, Kondapur, Gachibowli, Kokapet, Tellapur. Uber charges a service fee of 5% fee on such trips, “to cover for technology, infrastructure & support costs [which] is significantly lower than the 20% service fee charged for a standard commercial ride”.

Uber had expanded Uber Commute to Bengaluru in 2016, after initially launching the service in Delhi. However, the Karnataka government had reportedly accused the company of violating transport department rules since it allowed “unregulated use of private vehicles to ferry passengers for prescribed fares and compete with taxis”, and had called for halting the service.

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Union’s problems with Uber Commute:

  1. Violative of Andhra Pradesh’s Rent a Cab Scheme: The taxi union said that the service is in violation of Andhra Pradesh’s Rent a Cab Scheme, 1989. According to the scheme, “No person shall engage himself in the business of renting a motor cab under this scheme without licence”, where “Licence” means the exclusive licence required to “engage in the business of renting of motor cabs to persons desiring to drive the cabs for their own use”, the union said.
  2. Uber is “promoting unregulated use of private vehicles” to ferry passengers for prescribed fares, which in turn, would compete with city taxis/cabs, the union said. It said that the service was discriminatory, since private vehicle owners are required to pay a one-time tax while buying a car, whereas taxis/cabs to pay annual taxes and permit charges to ferry passengers. “This would also hurt the state revenue that is to be collected from commercial vehicles engaged in ride hailing and sharing services,” it added.

Why are they talking about it now when the service was announced last year? The association has contacted the state government, including the transport department, labour department, and the Governor of Telangana, “several times”, opposing Uber Commute since it was first launched in January 2019, Shaik Salauddin, the chairman of the Telangana State Taxi and Drivers Joint Action Committee, told MediaNama. However, “a decision on the service is yet to be taken by the government”, he said. Salauddin is also national general secretary of the Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers.

‘State departments confused over jurisdiction’: Salauddin informed us that that Telangana’s Labour Minister told them yesterday that the “state’s Transport Department appears to be better place for raising the issue”, but “assured the union that he would raise the matter in his official capacity”. Over the last one year, various departments of the state government, including the labour department, transport department and IT department, have been unsure about the jurisdiction under which this particular issue can be resolved, Salauddin said, and added that the union is planning to meet the  state’s Transport Minister, Puvvada Ajay Kumar, within the next 2-3 days to talk to him about halting Uber Commute.

Uber Commute

Letter written by the union to the Labour and Employment Minister on February 19.

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