Carpooling apps in Bengaluru as well as in other cities across Karnataka must register with the transport department and operate under the state’s regulations, transport minister Ramalinga Reddy said on Monday. The minister refuted media reports that his department was planning to levy fines on car owners using the carpooling app in the state capital.
Bengaluru has an estimated two million people employed in the technology, startup and BPO sectors for thousands of whom carpooling is a preferred option to get around in the traffic-laden city.
Noting that private transport associations are demanding the enforcement of stricter fines against illegal transport vehicles, Reddy told ET that, “while we are not terming carpooling apps as illegal yet, they have not registered with us.”
However, “ there is no question of levying fines against people who use them (carpooling apps),”he clarified.
Once the carpooling apps operating in the city such as BlaBlaCar, Quickride, and Rideshare register with state transport authorities, they will come under the ambit of The Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, and “may be allowed to operate with a licence,” he added.
The minister is meeting a group of carpool app aggregators on Tuesday to discuss the matter.
A new policy would go a long way in eliminating any ambiguity about the cost sharing aspect of carpooling, Hariprakash Agrawal, CEO of cab services start up RideAlly told ET. “We started as a company-focused carpooling firm, but we switched to our current space when cost-sharing models began to crop up in other carpool apps. We knew that as per current Indian laws, monetizing private vehicles – the ones with white licence plates – is not legal,” he said.
An email sent to Quickride did not elicit a response.
Transport associations protest
Meanwhile, associations that represent cabs and autos are objecting even to such concessions on the grounds that carpooling apps are eating into the income of their members.
S Nataraj Sharma, president of the Federation of Private Transport Association, told ET, that the move would affect about 2.5 million auto and cab drivers in Bengaluru. “The people using these apps are already earning a hefty salary. For cab and auto drivers, this is a blow to their very livelihood,” he said. Taxi and auto rickshaw drivers’ unions observed a day’s bandh in Bengaluru last month and submitted a list of demands to the transport minister.
Media reports emerged on Saturday that Karnataka’s transport department was advising passengers not to take rides from the carpooling apps. The reports said that carpoolers would be levied a fine from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000, and the white-licence plate cars, used for pooling, would lose their registration.
Netizens erupted in anger against these reports, saying the government was trying to ban one of the best measures to reduce traffic congestion in the city.
BJP MP Tejasvi Surya had backed the users, saying the Bengaluru Municipal Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus fleet was not sufficient for the city’s population. In a letter to the transport department, the Bengaluru South MP warned that banning carpooling services would only make traffic congestion worse in the city. He said the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules are outdated.
According to the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, private vehicles – those with white licence plates – cannot be used for commercial purposes. Carpooling apps enable the vehicle owner to levy a fee from the other passengers sharing a ride, making it illegal under the current laws. The government needs to amend the rules to reflect the needs of the present day, Surya stated.
Experts are of the view that the ongoing dispute over carpooling, reflects a lack of clarity about the government’s aims to decongest Bengaluru. “The government should be focusing on the big picture, which is reducing the number of cars on the road. If carpooling does that, there is no reason to ban it,” said Urban transport expert Ashwin Mahesh.
The Bengaluru Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) needs to come up with a clear policy in this regard, he added.
Traffic congestion is one of the biggest concerns in Bengaluru, which became the second slowest city to drive in in 2022 after London, according to Dutch navigation and digital mapping company TomTom’s Traffic Index. Hours-long traffic snarls are fairly common, especially along the city’s tech corridor – the outer-ring road (ORR).
Last week, lakhs of commuters were stranded in an unusually long traffic gridlock, prompting the city’s traffic police to introduce measures like banning heavy vehicle movement from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm along the ORR. The Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA) said it was in talks with the companies on the belt to stagger their working hours to reduce the traffic during peak hours.
In a stretch of five kilometres on the outer ring road, there are about five technology parks, 500 technology companies, and about five lakh cars trying to enter the parking areas. This often causes gridlocks and blocks smooth flow of traffic on the road.