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Ban or No Ban? The Carpooling Controversy in Bengaluru Explained

Karnataka Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy recently clarified there is no blanket ban on carpooling in the city.

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Merely days after Bengaluru's Outer Ring Road (ORR) witnessed a gridlock like no other on 27 September, the city found itself in yet another fix – over a supposed 'ban' on carpooling. 

Over the weekend, some media outlets reported that the state transport department banned carpooling in Bengaluru and that it could attract fines of up to Rs 10,000, in accordance with the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules of 1989. 

The reports also stated the move was a result of taxi associations complaining that vehicles with white number plates (or whiteboards), which are not registered for commercial use, are being used for carpooling by aggregator apps like BlaBla Car, Quickride, Zoom, and Rideshare.

Sharing one such article, Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya took to X (formerly Twitter) on Monday, 1 October, to say that a "ban on carpooling only encourages congestion." He also wrote a letter to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, asking him to reconsider the 'ban'.

But on 2 October, state Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy clarified there is no blanket ban on carpooling in the city.

"Carpooling is not banned, it is false news," he said on X, adding that it is "illegal to use non-commercial private vehicles with white number plates for carpooling purposes" and that commercial vehicles "with yellow number plates can be used for carpooling by following appropriate guidelines."

So, why has carpooling triggered a controversy in Bengaluru? Let's dig deeper.

Ban or No Ban? The Carpooling Controversy in Bengaluru Explained

  1. 1. 'Bengaluru Needs Carpooling'

    Carpooling essentially involves a group of people travelling together in a vehicle to a destination (say, work). They split the cost of the journey and may and even take turns to drive. The idea of carpooling is to reduce fuel usage, emissions, and cost of travel.

    But most importantly, it ensures that there are fewer vehicles on the road.

    In fact, carpooling has been recommended by experts in Bengaluru – especially on the ORR that passes through the IT corridor – as it has the highest traffic density for any major city in the country.

    Speaking to The Quint earlier, Krishna Kumar Gowda, the general manager of the Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA), had said that the traffic police and the ORRCA had issued notices to IT companies in August to implement carpooling, among other measures, to reduce traffic congestion on the ORR.

    Over the years, the use of carpooling apps has also grown in the city.

    After news of the supposed 'ban' broke, several netizens took to X to show their displeasure.

    Former Bengaluru Commission of Police Bhaskar Rao also joined the debate, asking "who are these unwise mandarins advising Government to ban carpooling."

    So, if carpooling helps Bengaluru, then what is the problem?

    Expand
  2. 2. What Is the Bone of Contention?

    According to media reports, taxi-cab associations in the city had recently complained to the transport department saying that aggregator apps are employing private/personal vehicles – that is, vehicles with white number plates which are not registered for commercial use – for carpooling services.

    This, in turn, is affecting their business, they said.

    According to the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules of 1989, a whiteboard vehicle cannot be used for profit, and such use may invite penalties up to Rs 10,000. But the rules also say that one can get it registered for commercial use (yellow board) and run it for profit.

    Minister Ramalinga Reddy explained that some of the cab aggregator apps that offer carpooling services do not have the necessary licences or permissions to do so. "When they have not taken the permission, where is the question of banning?" he asked on X.

    He added that while complaints of violations were received, no official order has been issued to ban carpooling. The minister also told the media that he would be meeting representatives of carpooling aggregator apps on Tuesday to discuss the legality of the matter.

    Expand
  3. 3. 'Motor Vehicle Rules Outdated': Tejasvi Surya

    But even after the transport minister clarified that there was no ban on carpooling, Tejasvi Surya took to X to say that the "Karnataka Govt's Transport Dept does not seem to understand the difference between carpooling & ride-sharing."

    He argued that "only private, white-board vehicles can involve in carpooling" as "in carpooling, the owner of a private vehicle is heading to a pre-fixed destination of his choice and shares the ride with co-passengers on the route that he/she is taking ... The passengers, including the owner, share the expenses of the journey & neither of them make a profit out of the journey."

    The BJP MP added that in ridesharing, "only the co-passengers split the cost of the journey & the driver profits from this activity. This is done in a yellow-board, commercial vehicle."

    He then said the aggregator app in this scenario charges "a small fee for the service of connecting the rides ... This is not a fee for carpooling, but a service charge for connecting co-passengers."

    Surya further claimed that the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules are "outdated" and should meet the needs of today.

    Expand
  4. 4. 'This Is a Matter of Livelihood': Expert

    Speaking to The Quint, Srinivas Alavilli, an Integrated Transport and Road Safety Fellow at World Resources Institute (WRI) India, said that while "carpooling, by definition, is good, this is a policy matter, which needs to look at a cab driver's fear of losing his/her livelihood."

    "So many people in Bengaluru depend on taxis for livelihood. But what you need to understand is that they're paying more money to get that yellow board," he says.

    "So, when carpooling is done using personal vehicles (whiteboards), what's the difference between white and yellow boards? It's not the colour, it's the tax. It costs money to get a yellow board. Why are they charging more, what's the logic behind it? It's because if you have a yellow board, you are using the road more; taxis clock hundreds of kilometres per day."
    Srinivas Alavilli

    He added that carpooling makes a lot of sense "when it happens between known people. We both work in same place and live in the same area, so we carpool."

    "But that's not what the carpooling aggregator apps are doing. They find others (could be strangers) who are going the same way. And the aggregator gets some commission for the service provided. The person who is driving doesn't get money, they get points, rewards etc. Technically, there is no cash transactions but there is a commercial feel to it," Alavilli said.

    Expand

'Bengaluru Needs Carpooling'

Carpooling essentially involves a group of people travelling together in a vehicle to a destination (say, work). They split the cost of the journey and may and even take turns to drive. The idea of carpooling is to reduce fuel usage, emissions, and cost of travel.

But most importantly, it ensures that there are fewer vehicles on the road.

In fact, carpooling has been recommended by experts in Bengaluru – especially on the ORR that passes through the IT corridor – as it has the highest traffic density for any major city in the country.

Speaking to The Quint earlier, Krishna Kumar Gowda, the general manager of the Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA), had said that the traffic police and the ORRCA had issued notices to IT companies in August to implement carpooling, among other measures, to reduce traffic congestion on the ORR.

Over the years, the use of carpooling apps has also grown in the city.

After news of the supposed 'ban' broke, several netizens took to X to show their displeasure.

Former Bengaluru Commission of Police Bhaskar Rao also joined the debate, asking "who are these unwise mandarins advising Government to ban carpooling."

So, if carpooling helps Bengaluru, then what is the problem?

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What Is the Bone of Contention?

According to media reports, taxi-cab associations in the city had recently complained to the transport department saying that aggregator apps are employing private/personal vehicles – that is, vehicles with white number plates which are not registered for commercial use – for carpooling services.

This, in turn, is affecting their business, they said.

According to the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules of 1989, a whiteboard vehicle cannot be used for profit, and such use may invite penalties up to Rs 10,000. But the rules also say that one can get it registered for commercial use (yellow board) and run it for profit.

Minister Ramalinga Reddy explained that some of the cab aggregator apps that offer carpooling services do not have the necessary licences or permissions to do so. "When they have not taken the permission, where is the question of banning?" he asked on X.

He added that while complaints of violations were received, no official order has been issued to ban carpooling. The minister also told the media that he would be meeting representatives of carpooling aggregator apps on Tuesday to discuss the legality of the matter.

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'Motor Vehicle Rules Outdated': Tejasvi Surya

But even after the transport minister clarified that there was no ban on carpooling, Tejasvi Surya took to X to say that the "Karnataka Govt's Transport Dept does not seem to understand the difference between carpooling & ride-sharing."

He argued that "only private, white-board vehicles can involve in carpooling" as "in carpooling, the owner of a private vehicle is heading to a pre-fixed destination of his choice and shares the ride with co-passengers on the route that he/she is taking ... The passengers, including the owner, share the expenses of the journey & neither of them make a profit out of the journey."

The BJP MP added that in ridesharing, "only the co-passengers split the cost of the journey & the driver profits from this activity. This is done in a yellow-board, commercial vehicle."

He then said the aggregator app in this scenario charges "a small fee for the service of connecting the rides ... This is not a fee for carpooling, but a service charge for connecting co-passengers."

Surya further claimed that the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules are "outdated" and should meet the needs of today.

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'This Is a Matter of Livelihood': Expert

Speaking to The Quint, Srinivas Alavilli, an Integrated Transport and Road Safety Fellow at World Resources Institute (WRI) India, said that while "carpooling, by definition, is good, this is a policy matter, which needs to look at a cab driver's fear of losing his/her livelihood."

"So many people in Bengaluru depend on taxis for livelihood. But what you need to understand is that they're paying more money to get that yellow board," he says.

"So, when carpooling is done using personal vehicles (whiteboards), what's the difference between white and yellow boards? It's not the colour, it's the tax. It costs money to get a yellow board. Why are they charging more, what's the logic behind it? It's because if you have a yellow board, you are using the road more; taxis clock hundreds of kilometres per day."
Srinivas Alavilli

He added that carpooling makes a lot of sense "when it happens between known people. We both work in same place and live in the same area, so we carpool."

"But that's not what the carpooling aggregator apps are doing. They find others (could be strangers) who are going the same way. And the aggregator gets some commission for the service provided. The person who is driving doesn't get money, they get points, rewards etc. Technically, there is no cash transactions but there is a commercial feel to it," Alavilli said.

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"When you make a policy like this, you need to consider all dimensions and balance the need for carpooling as one of the solutions to congestion and fears of loss of livelihood. By encouraging carpooling, you're reducing traffic, but also reducing some opportunities for cab drivers. There is a legal, moral, and ethical dilemma to be resolved amicably," he added.

However, speaking to Hindustan Times, transport expert Vinoba Isaac said that considering the demand for cabs in Bengaluru, "cab drivers would not lose out completely even if some people choose carpooling options."

"The city must have roughly around 25,000 cabs. These might take three or four trips per day, which means, the cabs take 1 lakh trips for a single day. Whereas, people availing cab services in Bengaluru take more than acrore trips in a day. For the total demand we are looking at, it doesn't make much of a difference with carpooling," he told the publication.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Bengaluru   Traffic   Tejasvi Surya 

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