The ban on carpooling in Bengaluru, a city infamous for its traffic congestion, has sparked a contentious debate since its proposal. The Karnataka government's stance on carpooling has become the subject of confusion and controversy, prompting the need for clarification and an examination of the underlying issues.
On October 2, Karnataka Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy officially clarified that there was no outright ban on carpooling within the city. This clarification was crucial because there had been widespread reports and social media buzz suggesting that carpooling was prohibited in Bengaluru, often referred to as the world's second-slowest city due to its notorious traffic jams, only behind London.
Reddy asserted that carpooling, in and of itself, was not banned. Instead, the confusion arose from the fact that none of the carpooling apps operating in Bengaluru had obtained the necessary permissions from the government.
This underscores the government’s views on carpooling as an effective means of reducing traffic congestion, especially when individuals share rides with friends, neighbors, or colleagues. However, the use of carpooling apps for commercial purposes, where profits are involved, requires proper licensing and the operation of yellow-board vehicles, which come with specific requirements and obligations.
The traffic situation in Bengaluru reached a critical point on September 27 when approximately 3.5 lakh vehicles congested the city's Outer Ring Road (ORR) area. Vehicles were stranded on the road for an astonishing five hours, with many of them breaking down due to the sheer volume of traffic.
A 23-year-old resident in the city described the situation as what can only be termed as “a huge L.”
The frustration among residents was palpable, as some children reportedly reached home from school at midnight due to the traffic congestion. Ultimately, the situation underscores the pressing need for comprehensive and effective solutions to alleviate traffic congestion in Bengaluru.
Bengaluru traffic hits different. pic.twitter.com/3QSHLlegQV— Indian Tech & Infra (@IndianTechGuide) September 27, 2023
The debate surrounding carpooling in Bengaluru has been multifaceted.
On one hand, private transport associations in the city, which include taxi drivers, had previously called for a ban on carpooling. They argued that it was affecting their livelihoods as earnings dropped, particularly after the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The assertion that the carpooling ban might be an attempt to appease auto drivers and secure votes is a common sentiment among some residents. The auto-rickshaw business in Bengaluru could indeed be adversely affected if people increasingly turn to carpooling as a more convenient and cost-effective mode of transportation.
On the other hand, the Bengaluru traffic police had actively promoted carpooling initiatives as a means to alleviate traffic congestion, indicating support for the practice.
The confusion and controversy highlight the need for clear regulations and guidelines regarding carpooling services. According to the Motor Vehicle Aggregators Guidelines 2020 issued by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, carpooling can be provided by aggregators unless specifically prohibited by the state government.
The rationale for such prohibitions should be communicated in writing and made accessible on the transport portal of the state government. But here’s what some speculated reasons for the ban may be:
One of the central reasons for the ban on carpooling apps is the absence of proper licensing and regulations. Carpooling services offered through these apps were operating in a legal gray area, as they hadn't obtained official permission from the government. This lack of oversight raised concerns about passenger safety and accountability.
The government's stance differentiates between non-commercial carpooling among friends, neighbors, or colleagues and using carpooling apps for commercial purposes. While non-commercial carpooling is seen as an effective way to reduce congestion, the government requires those seeking commercial gain to apply for a license and use yellow-board vehicles. This distinction aims to ensure that proper regulations and safety measures are in place for commercial carpooling.
Taxi drivers and associations have expressed concerns that private users engaging in carpooling are affecting their livelihoods. They argue that carpooling apps bypass revenue to the state and flout existing state rules for operating ride-hailing services. This concern highlights the economic implications of carpooling on traditional taxi services.
Some stakeholders, including political leaders like Tejasvi Surya, have called for updates to the Motor Vehicles Act to accommodate modern carpooling services. They argue that the existing regulations are outdated and do not permit whiteboard vehicles for commercial commutes. This highlights the need for adapting regulations to the changing landscape of transportation services.
Carpooling can get private vehicles off the road & bring ease during peak hour commute.— Tejasvi Surya (@Tejasvi_Surya) October 1, 2023
Vehicular population has increased by 6,000% since 1990, making Bengaluru, a city with highest vehicle density that commutes at 15kmph.
A ban on car-pooling only encourages congestion, the… pic.twitter.com/R2e3ja76zS
The carpooling ban controversy in Bengaluru has, in summary, raised essential questions about regulations, permissions, and the livelihoods of taxi drivers, all within the context of addressing the city's notorious traffic congestion.
Some govt decisions just blow your mind. Few months back Delhi govt banned bike taxis which was equally shocking. How banning carpool help in reducing traffic? Bengaluru already one of the most congested cities right? Authorities should explain the mastermind ideas as well. https://t.co/PFixYY4aaC— 🎯DEVENDRA🎯 (@DS_790) October 2, 2023
The government wants carpooling to reduce traffic chaos but won't let the apps get the necessary permissions to operate smoothly. It's a classic Catch-22, where seemingly good intentions are trapped in a bureaucratic maze.
@DKShivakumar @osd_cmkarnataka Bengaluru is one of the worst traffic hit city in the world and now banning carpool which was convenience and cheap method to reach office. You are forcing people to use own personal vehicles . This is called suicide .— Shreejit swain (@Shreejitswain) October 1, 2023
The traffic police encourage carpooling to ease congestion, but private transport associations want it banned because it affects their earnings. It's a political tug-of-war that leaves the citizens stranded.