Autorickshaw- and taxi-operators’ protests across states, against taxi-aggregators like Ola and Uber, could likely prod state governments to keep vote-banks in mind while devising policies to regulate taxi services. But Maharashtra has done well to bring a policy that doesn’t try and impede the disruptive potential of the likes of Ola and Uber. A key bone of contention was whether these app-based platforms were to be treated as taxi operators or not; the guidelines, thankfully, create a new niche for these companies. As per the draft rules, these companies have to obtain licences at a nominal fee of R1 lakh for five years, and can only offer cab-hailing services under a ‘city app-based taxi permit’, and not under the All-India Tourist Permit, as they did so far. While they would be required to set-up call centres and helplines, the state did well to not force digital meters on them, instead of the Google Map-based services they use. Moreover, the rules leave the option open for existing Ola/Uber-linked cabs to convert to being city-permit holders, like the kaali-peeli taxis.
While regulation was unavoidable, the norms laid down by Maharashtra should prove to be a barrier for Ola/Uber—except perhaps for the rules mandating cleaner fuels and fare caps. Given pollution concerns that come with diesel cabs, the state requires that cabs on the platforms be LPG/CNG powered, or be hybrids or use unleaded petrol as fuel. This may put a lot of cabs out of service in the short-run, but it ensures greater sustainability. The rules on fare ceiling and floor, that may not go down well with aggregators, will prove to be a major stumbling block, however. Maharashtra may need to work out these kinks but its draft rules should be a template for other states on regulating taxi aggregators.