By Rameesh Kailasam
With India emerging as one of the largest car markets, leading to unimaginable congestion challenges, shared mobility has become one of the most preferred modes of urban transportation. Sharing rides has assumed importance thanks to drastic rise in private car ownership leading to increased pollution and congestion. There are multiple forms of shared mobility such as ride sharing or carpooling, ride hailing, and vehicle sharing. Each of these have gained popularity over time, cost-effectiveness being a key point of attraction. In order to address the twin challenges of pollution and congestion, a number of initiatives were launched.
Policies such as the National Urban Transport Policy and the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 were introduced. While there are many such initiatives, the magnitude and complexity of the mobility challenges require a comprehensive action-agenda.
Transport demand in India has grown 8X since 1980. However, given privately-owned vehicles have inherently low asset utilisation, carpooling emerged as a solution to effectively reduce cost, congestion and pollution. Shared mobility plummeted significantly as Covid protocols required distancing and an unknown fear crept in, given the rapid spread of the disease. This makes it all the more important for the government to think about emissions per passenger when working solutions for urban mobility by incentivising carpooling and providing clarity on the regulatory aspect of it.
Nationally, the merit of carpooling has been recognised, but the Motor Vehicles Act, in its present form, puts carpooling in a grey area. Regulated by the Act, contract carriages and public service vehicles can carry passengers for ‘hire and reward’. The two categories, however, exclude private cars, only used occasionally for giving the lift against some payments. Although MoRTH’s Taxi Guidelines, and Moving Together Forward, a report by Niti Aayog, revealed a political will to implement carpooling, lack of clarity around nature and probabilities of outcomes of the new intervention underscores various risks. The extremely long and complex list of compliances required of both individual drivers as well as Non-Transport Aggregators sets up these Guidelines for failure in attaining the objective. Carpooling (and bike pooling) is a consumer-to-consumer activity, and regulations should allow and encourage people to interact and transact freely via digitally-enabled platforms. If onerous registration and compliance measures are made mandatory, then private individuals will stay away.
Globally, ride sharing and carpooling are well-embraced concepts. The US, the UK (Leeds), the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Spain (Madrid), New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia (Jakarta) have well defined lanes for the use of high occupancy vehicles (HOV). Countries like Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, etc, have recognised the importance of carpooling and have accordingly introduced policies and amended existing laws to not only legalise carpooling but also incentivise users. In some parts of the Boston, preferential parking is given to those carpooling. Many governments provide such incentives, and even subsidies to private car-owners to push carpooling.
MoRTH’s Motor Vehicle Aggregator Guidelines 2020 were a step towards legalising carpooling through private vehicles, and, if adopted, implemented and executed by the states with the right levels of autonomy, it can have a significant positive effect on increasing the capacity utilisation of private vehicles, reducing traffic on roads, reducing pollution and also help commuters neutralise the financial effects of rising fuel prices. However, while the Guidelines are well intended, carpooling and bike-pooling are not just commercial activity; the government must remember drivers signing up are not doing this for their livelihoods, but for the larger good of society and the environment. The amount charged is actually to cover only the vehicle running costs. If the compliance requirements on them are stringent, as is the case with these Guidelines, then it is unlikely people will sign up. Because of certain ambiguous wordings in the Guidelines, many compliances such as mandatory training, police verification, etc—a necessity for commercial operations due to their daily usage—are being applied to carpooling services.
To support carpooling and the carpooling platforms in the country, the government should ideally reconsider certain provisions of the Motor Vehicle Aggregator Guidelines; it must define and exclude carpooling platforms from the ambit of the guidelines. This can be done in line with how other governments have defined ‘carpooling.’ Additionally, for the betterment of the carpooling industry, look at possibly having separate guidelines regulating carpooling in India. Carpooling platforms not only make this market possible and real, but also offer the essential electronic trail and help in making it better organised, secure and safe. These start-up platforms also need to earn their bit to survive and thrive and create an electronic engagement to make this concept viable, real, safe and remunerative.
The author is CEO, IndiaTech.org