This ride had to stop: Uber banned, stop outraging

  • Dhrubo Jyoti Purkait, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 10, 2014 17:52 IST

It has been two days since Delhi banned Uber and other web-based cab aggregators and the Centre sent out an advisory to all states, saying such transport companies that aren't really transport companies should be taken off the roads.

It has also been 24 hours since the social media went full tilt on condemning the move -Twitterati called the move spineless, knee-jerk and ill-thought out. Criticism of the move almost surpassed that of the original crime with even mainstream newspapers devoting column space on whether the ban is justified.

Among all this middle-class outrage, it was conveniently forgotten that everyone's favourite cab company had flouted the rules of the land-howsoever outdated they might have been. The justification offered was banning Uber won't get rid of rapes that occurred in buses, ordinary cabs and trains across the country.

Let's look at the facts. Did Uber flout the laws of the land ? Yes. Is its business model specifically designed to work in the crevices of legal regulation in most countries? Yes. Has it faced similar problems in other countries, including the US and Europe? Yes. Is this claim of not being a transport company and hence not bound by transport regulations ludicrous? Yes.

That India's motor vehicles' regulations are antiquated and need overhaul is beyond doubt. That, however, cannot be spun as an invitation for a company to creatively dodge the rules. If yellow cabs are governed by a set of laws, the same should be applied to the rich man's cab.

No, this step might not make Delhi much safer for women - that goal still has a long way to go. But the ban will ensure that transport companies abide by rules enacted in a democratic set-up, debated among the representatives of the people and passed by the Parliament, even if it causes some discomfort to the Republic of south Delhi. A US-based company operating with no accountability to Indian laws and regulations is not good news.

Uber has run into trouble abroad for predatory trade practices - including surge pricing, under which the company doubles or triples fares in peak hours, bad traffic, or weather calamities. How? By squeezing out competition like all great corporate entities. In a number of other European and American cities, including London and San Francisco, it is currently facing legal action. It has been banned in several others - like Thailand and Spain.

Did the government take all this into account while banning Uber? Probably not. But that still doesn't change the fact that the ride-sharing service deserved the ban, not least for its CEO's statement that put the onus of background checks on the government, saying India doesn't have transport regulations. Yes we do, sir, you just don't follow them.

For a company that markets itself as being safer, more tech-savvy and customer-friendly, to turn around and say we're not even a transport company is disingenuous. Worse is the argument that Uber isn't bad, rules are. If regulations are antiquated, lobby to change them and US corporate have no dearth of money or political muscle power to do that. But as long as they exist on the books, companies have to abide by them.

Every morning we are greeted with stories of how third-world governments bow down to global corporate entities - from changing telecom rules to making bidding processes irrelevant to bypassing legal structures altogether. An entire continent of Africa is being looted with the connivance of local leaders and MNC heads. For once, a country in the global south has stood up to big business and had made it clear that they won't be taken for a ride, almost literally. This isn't a cause to complain.

What, however, is a cause of worry is our new-found concern for all-encompassing solutions for rape. We really don't care if people are getting molested in cabs or buses or trains. If we did, we would worry about public transport all the time, not just when our favourite service is banned. What we are worried about is not having a comfortable taxi to go to the next party to.

Views expressed by the authour are personal

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