Difficult to develop app for auto services: Karnataka govt in meeting held to fix fares

It “will be difficult” for the government to develop an app to offer auto services, the Karnataka transport and road safety department said Tuesday in a meeting with the traffic police from all the zones, mobility activists and the general public. The meeting was held to reach a decision on how to fix fares for app-based autos.

The department’s response came after people demanded the government to come up with their own ride-hailing app and fix the rates for auto services.

Commissioner of transport S N Siddaramappa said, “Developing a ride-hailing app by the government will be difficult now. Government coming up with an app is something that will take its own course and until then, we will have to work within the framework of the Constitution. However, we will make efforts to bring justice to the public in this direction by taking in inputs from all the stakeholders of the issue.”

A transport official, who was present in the meeting, said, “Uber, Ola and Rapido are not something the transport government has introduced. We are in a liberalised world and everybody has opportunities to invest in any business. Initially, ride-hailing apps were welcomed by passengers as it was a doorstep pick up. However, conflict started when auto fares of these ride hailing apps soared. As per the directions from the Karnataka High Court, we convened meetings and have taken inputs from all the stakeholders, including the auto driver unions, representatives of the ride hailing companies, general public and mobility experts, after which we will file an affidavit and submit it in the Karnataka High Court.”

Urban mobility experts, social workers, activists and residents present during Tuesday’s meeting echoed a similar sentiment and demanded a ride-hailing app from the government. Some members also demanded strict action against erring auto-rickshaw drivers while some requested the transport department to introduce a shared mobility model.

However, largely people vehemently opposed Ola and Uber’s ‘surge pricing’ system and dubbed it a “daylight robbery”. Equally, they also slammed the government for allowing the app-based auto services to operate “illegally” and “overcharge” passengers baselessly.

Chetan Rajashekar, a techie said, “It is okay to allow Ola and Uber to operate within the ambit of the law and create a level playing field for private players. However, to what extent does the road transport authority rules allow them to increase their auto fares. Surge pricing by such apps is nothing but extortion. Also, down the line, what guarantee do we have that Ola or Uber will not go bankrupt? Hence, a government coming up with its own app is a feasible solution.”

Satya Arikutharam, an independent mobility expert, also submitted a series of suggestions to the transport department where he recommended the state government to adopt the Centre’s Motor Vehicle Aggregator Guidelines 2020. In his suggestion, Arikutharam stated that according to the Centre’s guidelines, the transport departments should fix 3 km as the minimum fare on rides booked through apps. Which means that based on the current fares fixed by the state government, Rs 45 will be the base minimum auto-rickshaw fare for rides booked on apps.

He also suggested that as per the recommendations of the Centre’s Motor Vehicle Aggregator Guidelines, 2020, the transport department can update the base fare each year with the current year’s inflation. In addition, he also stated that, as per the guidelines, 80% of the fare applicable on each ride should be given to the drivers and the remaining charges for each ride shall be received by the aggregator.

Karnataka High Court in October provided an interim relief to the ride-hailing apps offering auto services after the government directed to ban the services. The court also asked the government and all the stakeholders to convene and decide on fare fixation for auto services by ride hailing apps. The court in its interim order allows the apps to charge 10% extra plus GST for its auto services.

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