The Bombay High Court on Friday directed bike taxi platform Rapido to suspend its operations after it was found to be functioning without a licence in the state. The court directed to cease all of its operations including bike and rickshaw hailing until January 20, 2023.
The High Court was hearing a petition filed by Rapido which challenged Maharashtra state’s refusal to provide licenses to online taxis and auto-rickshaw aggregators.
A division bench headed by Justices GS Patel and Justice SG Dige told Rapido’s lawyers that the court will be forced to would immediately dismiss the petition with costs if the app refused to shut down in the state. According to a report by Live Law, the bench, however, allowed Rapido to complete all pending rides till Friday, 1 PM.
During the hearing, Maharashtra state’s advocate general Dr Birendra Saraf informed that a regulatory committee has already been created to formulate new guidelines for bike taxis in the state. The AG also added that the state is also in the process of prosecuting other operators such as Ola and Uber as well.
Rapido’s lawyers further argued in the court that the state has been discriminating against it since other competitors such as Uber continue to offer bike and auto rickshaw hailing via online apps while it is being prosecuted.
However, the Live Law report also pointed out that the Bombay High Court bench also pulled up the state for being stuck in limbo when it comes to regulating online ride-hailing apps. The bench also asked the state to provide the exact provisions required for a bike tax license since Rapido already operates in other neighbouring states in a regulated environment.
“Nobody seems to have applied their mind to the evident advantages from various perspectives including reducing traffic congestion, pollution reduction and efficiency in transport by allowing bike rider systems. We expect that these will be made subject to certain safety requirements that must be followed but that is hardly a reason for rejecting the entire proposal in this fashion,” the court remarked according to Live Law.
This isn’t the first time that cab aggregators have run into trouble with various state governments over licensing norms. In 2021, the Karnataka state transport ministry wing served a notice to Ola and Uber for allegedly failing to submit quarterly ridership and driver-related reports which are mandatory under the state cab aggregator rules. In the same month, the Karnataka Transport Department officials raided the Bengaluru offices of cab aggregators Ola and Uber India for various other allegations of non-compliance to state norms.
However, various state governments have a history of excessively regulating urban mobility and transport asp especially bike taxis for which it has received backlash from both customers and companies alike. For example, the Karnataka state had earlier cracked down on bike taxis and shuttle services offered by urban mobility startups which have had far-reaching effects on the segment. In 2019, Karnataka state police imposed penalties on drivers and confiscated bikes in the absence of a clear-cut policy for bike taxis. The Karnataka transport department declared Uber and Ola’s bike-sharing services as “illegal” in 2016. However, this changed after the state announced a new policy in July 2016 that allowed electric bike taxis to run on the road for a limited distance.
The tussle between the Karnataka government and the ride-hailing companies has been persisting since the launch of Ola and Uber in 2013. In June 2018, the state government issued a notice to Ola and Uber against alleged violation of rules for charging the time-based fare. This came after the government revised tariff plans for taxis came into effect in January 2018 where the state government had fixed fares by classifying them into different categories.