Cab hailing platform Uber has resumed its car-pooling service ‘Uber Commute’ in Bengaluru and Hyderabad, four years after it was first launched in India.
Back then, Uber had faced resistance from drivers and taxi unions and eventually discontinued ‘Commute’.
Uber Commute matches car owners with “pairs of neighbours and co-workers traveling across similar routes” allowing the driver to earn money for each ride.
In a recent blogpost, Uber India said its carpooling feature is limited to a group of people using one car to travel on a shared route. The cab aggregator added that it was looking to help commuters share fuel costs, reduce congestion and curb pollution by utilising private cars for shared rides.
However, unlike its earlier version which laid down specific charges for riders and income for car owners, the new Uber Commute does not involve a service fee. Instead, it encourages drivers to charge “money as contributions from riders”.
“For riders, the total trip cost will start with a service fee but will then depend on the length of each trip. You’ll be able to see the cost once you’ve been matched for a commute trip,” Uber said in the post.
Carpooling services offered by cab aggressors such as Uber and Ola had earlier run into regulatory troubles and witnessed pushback form private taxi owners. But post-COVID, carpooling and bike-sharing services have been slowly picking steam as they are perceived to be safer than public transport.
Offices that have re-opened are prioritising employee safety and productivity, and want to have a larger role in minimising the risk of infection among commuting staff, and hence many companies have been mandating car-pooling as an alternative to public transport.
Uber’s carpooling service, launched in 2016, was deemed illegal by states like Karnataka as it allegedly violated transport laws that restricted unlicensed vehicles from ferrying passengers.
The service had also received flak from driver unions in Hyderabad which called it “illegal” and violative of the Motor Vehicles Act, 2016.
According to a MediaNama report in February, Telangana State Taxi and Drivers Joint Action Committee had sought government intervention saying Uber Commute violated Andhra Pradesh’s Rent a Cab Scheme, 1989, and central regulations which restricted taxi operations to licensed players and drivers only.
The Telangana drivers union had also expressed concerns calling Uber Commute “discriminatory” since white-plate vehicle owners pay a one-time tax while purchasing the vehicle, while licensed taxi drivers are required to pay annual taxes and other levies as per state and central regulations.
However, policy experts said Uber can act as an enabler of carpooling services by not taking a cut from the driver’s income per ride.
“In the Indian legislation if you are using a vehicle for hire or reward or for making money out of your vehicles as a taxi, you are supposed to take a license from the state authority for your vehicle, as per the Motor Vehicles Act. But if you are not using it for hire or reward then you can pretty much use it for any use case,” said a Delhi-based tech lawyer, who didn’t wish to be named.
He added that it is not clear whether the car-pooling users will be protected under the insurance cover owned by the car-owner in case of accidents leading to more regulatory troubles for car-pooling platforms.
The central government was also expected to make regulatory amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act to legalize car-pooling services, Mint had reported in November. However, these amendments are yet to be finalised.
Uber did not respond to an email seeking queries until the publishing of this story.
This article was first published on livemint.com