We missed this: Uber has relaunched its controversial carpooling service “Commute” in Bangalore after nearly four years, reported YourStory. The ridesharing service allows private car owners to sell rides to other Uber customers. The service is only available in Bengaluru, an Uber spokesperson confirmed to MediaNama.

Commute had first been launched in Bengaluru in 2016, but it discontinued it soon as the Karnataka government challenged its legality. The government had accused Uber of violating transport department rules by allowing “whiteboard”, private cars to operate as virtual taxis. The service ran into similar trouble in Hyderabad. In February 2020, Uber discontinued Commute here as well after opposition from taxi drivers who protested against it.

MediaNama asked Uber if the company had any plans to expand Commute to other cities in the country. The spokesperson declined to comment, but pointed us to the blog post announcing the service from August 31. However, this blog post seems to have been taken down. When we reached out to Uber, we were told the post is inaccessible due to technical problems, and this does not mean Commute has been discontinued in Bengaluru.

We were able to take screenshots of the post from when it was accessed yesterday.

Screenshot of blog post announcing Uber Commute on August 31, 2020

Screenshot of blog post announcing Uber Commute on August 31, 2020

The post had little information to offer on where Commute is available. It only said: “Commute is being introduced gradually. Open your Uber app to check is it’s available in your city.”

Uber claimed Commute would “pair neighbours and co-workers travelling similar routes, so you can save time, money and the environment — all at the same time.” YourStory reported that the service’s waitlist reportedly had close to 2,000 people in the city on Monday.

Car owners/drivers on the Commute service would not have to pay any service fee to Uber to participate in it. Commutes would work in two slots — the morning “AM” commute, and the evening “PM” commute. Requests for a morning ride have to be made before 9PM the previous day. Requests for a evening ride have to be made before 3PM the same day.

Opposition from taxi drivers

Taxi drivers in Bengaluru have come out against are critical of Uber. Inayat Ali, a senior member of the state’s largest drivers’ union Namma Chalakara Trade Union, said Uber was already unable to provide enough well-paying work to the drivers registered on its platforms. “Since the pandemic began, Uber has not been able to provide enough well-paying work to drivers registered on its platform. At such a time, it is wrong of them to divert more work to white-board, private vehicle owners,” he said.

Ali said the union would approach the Karnataka transport department to lodge their protest against Uber within the next few days. Ali is also national joint secretary of the Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT), which has also been critical of the Commute service.

Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of IFAT, said that Uber is promoting the unregulated use of private vehicles, which are now in direct competition to taxis. He noted that while private car owners pay only a one-time life tax, commercial vehicles like taxis 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.”

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