Nineteen months after the central government directed states to regulate app-based taxi aggregators such as Uber and Ola to ensure the safety of their passengers, the Maharashtra government is yet to do so. Safety measures meant to be put in place include panic buttons and GPS trackers in every taxi, besides police verification of drivers and public-service taxi badges for them.
The union government had issued the directive on December 8, 2014, soon after the driver of an Uber taxi in Delhi was arrested on charges of raping a passenger.
The issue resurfaced after Uber driver Shehbaaz Shaikh, 32, was arrested for allegedly molesting a New Zealand national who was travelling alone in his cab from Bandra to Versova late on Wednesday.
While the Karnataka government has begun regulating app-based taxis and controlling surge pricing (charging higher fares when demand is high), the Maharashtra government’s New City Taxi Scheme 2015, which aims to regulate app-based taxi firms, control surge pricing and ensure the safety of passengers, remains on paper.
So far, the transport department has come out with six versions of the scheme, each slightly different from the other. Last month, the department revised the proposal and surprisingly said that there was no need to create a new class of taxis such as this would lead to “regulatory complexity”.
Taxi union leaders claim that the government is simply trying to buy time for app-based taxis companies while drivers of regular black-and-yellow taxis suffer. “If the central government and others have brought in rules to regulate app-based taxis, why is the Maharashtra government taking so much time?” asked Balasaheb Sanap, leader of taxi union Jai Bhagwan Mahasangh, which has threatened an indefinite strike from August 29.
According to a source, the Regional Transport Office (RTO) had directed all aggregators to install panic buttons and GPS trackers, set up call centres, make public services badges mandatory and ensure police verification of all drivers at the start of last year. However, it is difficult for the RTO to take legal action against the aggregators without any rules in place.
“The government has neither issued permits to the drivers nor come out with any rules to regulate their companies, so how we can take legal action against them?” said a senior RTO official, who did not wish to be named.
Meanwhile, the Tardeo RTO has issued two show-causes notice to Uber driver Shehbaaz Shaikh, 32, a resident of Pydhoni in south Mumbai, who allegedly molested a foreigner on Wednesday night. “We have issued two show cause notices – one about his drivers licence and another about the permit, based on the FIR registered by the police” said Govind Saindane from the RTO.
Proposed safety measures
Safety measures supposed to be put in place include:
Panic buttons in all cabs
GPS trackers in all cabs
Police verification of drivers
Public-service taxi badges for drivers