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Bengaluru bike taxi riders fear more attacks on fraternity as govt flip-flop leaves them stranded

Amid govt’s crackdown, there is no clarity on whether two-wheeler taxis can continue to operate in Bengaluru, adding to increasing tensions between auto drivers and bike taxi riders.

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Bengaluru: Members of the bike taxi association in Bengaluru Monday approached the city police and state government, seeking protection from the growing alleged attacks on the fraternity by autorickshaw drivers.

With unspecified laws and legal entanglements, there is still no clarity on whether two-wheeler taxis can continue to operate in Bengaluru, adding to the increasing tensions between auto drivers and bike taxi riders. 

“In the last week, the number of assaults on us has increased. In some cases, riders are assaulted and in others, robbed of their money and belongings,” Adi Narayana, the president of the forum, told INDIANEXPOSE.

The alleged assaults follow the crackdown on unauthorised bike taxis by the Karnataka transport department since Friday, when the authorities seized 133 EV (electric vehicle) bike-taxis in a single day. A day later, the government, in a notification, decided to increase the number of permits for autorickshaws in the city from 1.55 lakh to 2.55 lakh after a five-year period, citing “unprecedented population growth”. 

Narayana said that the claim about the action against EV bike taxis was not true as most of those seized last week were regular petrol bikes.

“They (authorities) are claiming that only EVs were seized, but any bike with mobile holders or riders with bluetooth headsets are being caught and fined Rs 5000. This is happening despite the riders showing them all the documents,” he adds. 

Bike taxi operators and experts said the crackdown and the opening up of permits indicate where the government’s priorities lie with respect to coming up with solutions to decongest the city.

During the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, election authorities in Delhi had struck an agreement with bike taxi operators to ferry voters from their homes to the polling booths for free. Bike taxis are legal in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Goa, among other states, but not in Karnataka. In Bengaluru, app-based aggregators have the bike icon on their respective platforms, but are quick to suspend services as and when crackdowns are announced.

The measures taken by the authorities in India’s IT capital in this regard have often resulted in curbing the implementation of technology-based solutions, despite the city’s massive traffic problem.

Also Read: Govt grants patent to Bengaluru firm for first-of-its-kind system to manage Aadhaar data

‘Road safety’

In July 2021, the then chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa had issued a formal notification on “Karnataka Bike Taxi Scheme 2021’ and provided guidelines. However, this had led to protests by auto driver unions against the proposal for allowing bike taxis in Bengaluru.

The notification had said that such EV bike taxis, which were allowed in other states, would help Karnataka as “many urban centres…are grappling with the issue of traffic jam and problem of first and last mile connectivity”.

The Bengaluru Metro expansion is behind schedule and the existing lines have the operational capacity of just about 6-7 lakh passengers per day. The bus fleet has stagnated even though it ferries nearly half of the city’s commuters and the sub-urban railway network plan still lies on paper. With issues like last-mile connectivity yet to be addressed, the commuters are largely reliant on private transport, which adds to the congestion in a city where vehicle and people population are almost equal at over 10 million.

Bengaluru’s traffic snarls have become a characteristic feature of the city’s landscape, along with its poor and inadequate infrastructure, rising reliance on private vehicles and overall decline in quality of life.

Despite traffic being one of the city’s biggest problems, Karnataka government has not been too eager to adopt technology-enabled solutions, like app-based carpooling, intra-city bus services, bike taxis and other forms of transport.

“These companies still come under the transport department and not under IT-BT (Department of Electronics, Information Technology, Biotechnology and Science Technology) despite being technology-based,” said one minister in the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah-led government, requesting anonymity.

Bengaluru is home to some of the biggest start-up success stories from India, including Ola, Zerodha, Flipkart, Big Basket, Swiggy, Cred, Phone Pe among scores of others. There have been instances of action by authorities against several of these companies as the laws have not been updated to keep up with new technologies, according to experts and policymakers.

In the last week of June, the state government made public the draft of its Karnataka Gig Workers (Conditions of Service and Welfare) Bill 2024, which proposes income security, occupational safety, a strong grievance redressal mechanism, and even penalties on aggregators for violations.

The bill is likely to be tabled in the upcoming assembly session in mid-July. It comes years after companies like Ola, Uber, Flipkart and others started operations in Bengaluru, often leading to clashes between authorities and operators. Often, these cases end up in court. 

In April last year, Karnataka High Court had directed the state government to protect bike taxi operators, and take strict action against those obstructing them.

Delays in framing laws, court verdicts and other complications have left a gaping hole in how this vertical of mass mobility is governed, allowing authorities to take an arbitrary view on the issue and take action according to the existing rules. 

“We have not given permission to anyone to operate bike taxis (in Bengaluru). There is a big safety aspect involved in this, when it comes to commuting on roads. In three-wheelers and four-wheelers, there is better safety,” Ramalinga Reddy, Karnataka’s transport minister told INDIANEXPOSE. 

He added that vehicles (two-wheelers) used for such services do not have Yellow Boards (commercial permits).

But according to bike taxi operators, these rules specifically target two-wheeler taxis as food & grocery delivery, parcel services and other commercial operations are allowed to continue without any problems.

‘Political constituency’

There are nearly 1.5 lakh autorickshaws on the roads of Bengaluru. These drivers and their families comprise a very politically active group, especially when it comes to protests over issues, like the border dispute with neighbouring states, Kannada pride, (Cauvery river) water sharing with Tamil Nadu, and so on.

There are recognised unions, who organise such protests, back political parties, negotiate with the government, and are a big bargaining block in Karnataka, especially Bengaluru.

“Auto drivers and that ecosystem are a big and organised block, and politicians see them as a constituency, while the same is not extended to bike taxis,” said a person who works with an app-based cab aggregator, requesting anonymity. 

Auto drivers and other local cab operators have, in the past, opposed Ola, Uber, Rapido and other app-based aggregators over several issues, saying that the apps would impact them economically. 

“There is a lot of pressure from auto unions not to allow bike taxis,” said one senior political leader, requesting anonymity.

Bike Taxi operators say that they are being denied the means to eke out a living for themselves by the government and transport authorities, who are fraternising with auto drivers, and leaving them unprotected.

(Edited by Mannat Chugh)

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