(This story was first published on 7 March 2023. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives in light of the Supreme Court stay on the Delhi High Court order on 12 June. This has essentially revived the ban.)
“If the police catch us, please tell them that you are my sister,” said a bike-rider, on his way to Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar on a weekday afternoon.
The 28-year-old is employed with Ola, the cab aggregator. On 20 February, bike taxis were banned by the Delhi government. Two weeks later, however, the option to book one on Ola is still there.
“I won’t use my phone to navigate because then the police will know I am a bike taxi driver. I can take a route that will avoid all checkpoints,” said the young man.
The ban has brought with it a host of problems for the drivers whose livelihood depended on the job. The Quint spoke to six men who drive Ola and Uber bikes about their fear of getting caught, circumventing the system, and the sudden financial crunch caused by this ban.
'Would Rather Take The Risk Than Lose All My Income'
Besides rampant cancellations for certain routes, particularly those areas with unavoidable police checkpoints, The Quint heard bike riders say, “Please navigate,” “I’ve stopped carrying a helmet, please bring your own;” and “I only deliver parcel now, not person.”
The 28-year-old rider lamented that he has stated losing customers. “A day ago, I got a female passenger who wanted to go to Connaught Place. There are many checkpoints there so I was afraid and told her to go offline. I said that if a police personnel stops us, she should say we are related. She was shocked to hear me request and wasn’t comfortable... And I lost the client,” he recounted.
But why does he take the risk?
During the first wave of COVID-19, he lost his job as a salesperson. “I started working with Zomato at first and then started working as a bike-rider for Ola. I can’t lose this job… I’d rather take the risk than lose all my income,” he told The Quint.
Another bike rider said that he was taken aback when he heard about the ban. He said, “A group of my friends are all bike taxi drivers in Delhi-NCR. We barely make a few thousand rupees every week, and now they want to take away our livelihood? What are we supposed to do? I have a family of three and I cannot afford to pay Rs 5,000 as fine. Our bikes are our only source of income.”
The 32-year-old uses Ola, Uber, Rapido and Borzo (for deliveries). He said, “In one trip, I would be able to deliver food and drop off a passenger. But now I will lose most of my earnings. I don't even know the exact rules and I fear that if I am caught, they will either take away my money or my bike and license.”
Another bike rider, aged 25, said that the apps – Ola, Uber, and Rapido – are still allowing them to take passengers but they are worried about the police.
He said, “Since the apps never stopped showing the option, many clients don't even know that there is a ban. When we were stopped by the police, the customers find out about the rules.”
Like many others, he has also started asking passengers to cancel their rides after picking them up. He said, “Some of us ask the passenger to navigate and pretend to be our friends or colleagues. For me, it has worked successfully so far… But I am always afraid that the police will catch me.”
Meanwhile, riders from other parts of NCR such as Noida said that they have been cancelling rides to Delhi ever since they heard about the ban.
What Does the Ban Say?
On 20 February, the transport department of the Delhi government said that app-based aggregators that are running personal bikes as taxis, in violation of the Motor Vehicles Act, will have to stop the service.
Any violation of the decision will result in a first offence penalty of Rs 5,000 under section 192 of the MV Act; second or more offences will lead to fines of Rs 10,000, impounding of the vehicle, and even imprisonment. “In addition, the driving license of the driver will be suspended for a minimum period of three years," read the public notice by the department.
There is, however, lack of clarity for the drivers as well as for companies such as Ola, Uber, and Rapido.
Following the public notice, Delhi’s Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot tweeted on the same day, “Aggregator policy for two-wheelers, three-wheelers and four-wheelers is in its final stage and will be rolled out soon helping them to apply for grant of license under the new scheme.”
An employee of a leading ride-sharing company, who did not want to be identified, told The Quint, “There is no clarity on timelines for the new aggregator rules proposed by the Delhi government. Currently, there are more than one lakh drivers in Delhi who take up to 40 lakh rides a week.”
He added, “Aggregators have reiterated that there should be no coercive action against bike taxis till the new rules are in place.”
Cab Aggregators Ask Govt to Not Take Coercive Action
In February, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), an internet industry body that represents Ola, Uber, and Rapido, wrote to the Delhi government asking them not to penalise drivers following the directive.
The IAMAI said that the state government is yet to release a final version of its draft aggregator policy. It said, “In the absence of policies notified under either section 93 or section 66 of the Act (Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019), we request that no coercive steps be taken against vehicle owners or digital platforms and a stakeholder consultation be organised at the earliest to discuss the way forward.”
A copy of the letter, accessed by The Quint, read, “In light of these submissions, IAMAI requests that the Government of NCT of Delhi engage with all relevant stakeholders - industry associations, digital platforms and affected transportation workers before any coercive action such as the steps mentioned in the public notice are contemplated. An effective public consultation will aid the government in making the right policies for this growing sector.”
Meanwhile, the source from the ridesharing company said that bike taxis can be converted to e-taxis but over a period of time.
He explained; “Most of the drivers have taken loans to buy their bikes. Now, if they are meant to switch to e-vehicles, that would take some time as these options are limited and expensive.” He added, “Interestingly, the Central Aggregator guidelines did allow private registered bikes to be used as taxis provided they were part of a fleet of an aggregator service.”
(With inputs from Pranay Dutta Roy and Rahul Goreja)