RTO authorities shun bike taxi in clash with autos
Pune RTO has seized around 275 Rapido bike taxis so far.
Aayush Pandey, Anushka Vani | As the conflict between auto-rickshaw drivers and bike taxis continues, Ajit Shinde, Pune Regional Transport Officer, has maintained the stand that bike taxis are illegal and unsafe and should be boycotted by people. Pune’s rickshaw drivers, who are on strike against the bike taxis outside the Regional Transport Office (RTO), have continued their protest for the fourth day.
Meanwhile, with the seizure of around 275 bike taxis regulated via the Rapido app, numerous riders are running around police stations and the RTO to free their bikes.
“No one should use the bike taxis as they are unsafe for the passengers as well as the drivers since they do not have the insurance cover and required documents. Bike taxis are illegal and should be boycotted,” Shinde said while speaking with Indie Journal on Monday.
While the rickshaw drivers who are protesting have also pointed out that the bike services have not yet been recognised as the formal means of public transport by the State Government yet, the financially stranded young bikers say that bike-share services are their only source of income. The seizure of their bikes by the RTO is costing these riders a fortune, as they say, that they have to pay a fine of around Rs 25,000 per bike for release.
“With our bikes being seized, we are losing our only means of earning. The authorities are not responding to our pleas. If we don’t pay we get nothing and if we pay we are left with nothing. Our brothers are struggling to arrange the money. Some are selling their ancestral jewellery, some are mortgaging portions of their land to be able to pay the fine,” said Omkar Yadav, Rapido captain.
As the Rapido riders don’t have a union yet, Yadav has informally assumed the position of a leader, helping his fellow riders in the city.
Bikes seized by Pune RTO. Photo - Anushka Vani
“It is the company’s fault for not conveying proper instructions to their drivers. They don’t provide insurance cover, they don’t give helmets. Incidentally, the drivers are the ones who face the consequences. The RTO is working to stop these illegal bike taxis through a team which spots the bike taxis,” Shinde added.
Rapido had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court for getting legal recognition in the state, while the court, in its hearing on January 20, 2022, had granted Rapido the permission to retain the online app with a disclaimer that the service is currently unavailable in Maharashtra.
“The bike taxis do not have black and yellow number plates, so they are personal vehicles. In order for vehicles to be classified as commercial vehicles, they need to be registered under the RTO Guidelines. In Maharashtra bike taxis are not permitted, one can only rent a bike for personal use. The HC had priorly notified Rapido that two-wheelers should not be used as commercial vehicles, but the services were not discontinued, so the auto drivers have filed another case against the company,” said a senior RTO official on condition of anonymity.
As per the data provided by the official, till February 14, 2022, the Pune RTO has seized 275 bike taxis. There are four squad teams comprising a total of 15-16 individuals, that are working with the Pune police cyber cell, to investigate and spot the bike taxis.
“In case the seized bike belongs to the driver themselves, a fine of Rs 10,000 is imposed while in case the driver and the owner of the bike are different people, the fine amount would go up to Rs 15,000. Along with the fine, the licenses of the drivers would be suspended for a period of three months and the vehicle registration will be canceled for a period of 30 days,” the official further said.
Yadav said that Rapido is paying the riders whose bikes have been seized, Rs 3,500 per every week that they lose. “I am glad that Rapido is at least doing the bare minimum for its employees. But how long will all this continue? Will bike taxis be recognised by the RTO? And till when are we supposed to be wary of the auto drivers and the authorities? Earlier only the auto drivers were treating us violently by booking fake rides but now even the Police and the RTO officers are booking fake rides with the objective of seizing our vehicle. We’re too terrified to leave our homes now,” Yadav added.
Meanwhile, the auto-rickshaw drivers have gone on an indefinite strike since February 10 demanding a ban on bike taxi services.
Auto-rickshaw drivers protest. Photo - Aayush Pandey
“Auto-rickshaw drivers have been here for ages. We have permits to charge for services, we have licenses to run our operations and now people who have bikes can suddenly start serving as means of transport with only an app supervising them. How is this acceptable?” questioned Parmeshwar Prakash Gawade, one of the protesting auto drivers in Pune.
Talking about the legal status of the service, State Transport Commissioner Avinash Dhakne said, “We are into a process of legalising the two-wheeler passenger transport also known as bike taxis in the state soon. A detailed study of cities where it can be allowed will be done as per the vehicle density and only after that, the bike taxis will be regularised. Till then no companies should offer such app-based services to passengers. Continuing to do so will be treated as a punishable offence.”
Although the government and the administration themselves have acknowledged, even in a press note, that bike taxis are illegal in the state, an auto driver Satish Nalavde said, “We don’t want it just on paper, we want the regulations to be implemented.”
However, passengers, who have begun preferring app services including Ola, Uber, have a different angle to share. “It’s not about who runs what, it’s about what is affordable. If I can go from one place to another spending less time and less fare, why won’t I choose that?” said Ajay Kabir, a student based in Pune.
“I usually opt for Rapido over auto. The auto drivers first hassle about whose turn it is for duty, wasting our time. I have never had such problems with bike taxis. It is much more feasible and convenient than auto is. Especially when I don’t have to deal with the snobbish attitude of the auto drivers,” Kabir added.
When contacted about the issue, Pavan Guntupalli, Rapido Co-founder, said, “The seizure of our captain's bikes is a testament to how Rapido as a brand is being harassed. Following the clear High Court order last August, we have been running operations legally across the city of Bangalore.”
He added, “In the advent of this issue, there is no way that we will in any way compromise on the safety of our captains as well as our passengers. The Government authorities have clearly stated post the court order last August that none of our vehicles would be seized and our captains would not be accused of illegal practices, however, today Rapido is facing these accusations time and again. The Government authorities such as Pune RTO are clearly making us succumb to their baseless allegations. We strongly believe that this is simply a way to harass our captains and the brand.”