We live in an age of disruptive technologies. Every now and then, innovations force old systems to adapt or become obsolete. When app-based taxi booking services slowly made their way into the space dominated by the neighbourhood taxis or auto-rickshaws, no one expected that would begin to alter the way urban India commutes.
Most of us discovered Uber and Ola when the reprehensible rape case surfaced in 29 December '12. If a girl can be assaulted in a taxi run by a valid service provider, then where is one safe? The outrage that followed prompted a ban on Uber by the government, as the extant law had no provisions for taxi aggregators (Uber and Ola don’t own vehicles, they merely connect users with drivers).
Strong government action led these newbies to introduce stricter checks; ironically, their popularity soared thereafter. Yet, these aggregators operate in a grey area of law, as policy makers have not found a fix to regulate them.
As a votary of an effective public transport system that can address our critical urban problems like rising pollution, congestion, parking mess, I found these app-based taxis offering some solution. By virtue of being always on the move, these taxis don’t need parking space. By being demand-driven, drivers don’t have to make an idle trip to their base point, unlike taxis of yore.
Another reason these taxi aggregators are scoring is their cost-effectiveness over private cars. Predictably, auto-rickshaws are hit the most because the app-based taxis offer safer rides with relatively negligible chances of over-charging.
For those still seeking a ban on these services, they need to look at the drivers, the biggest beneficiaries of this system, apart from the commuters. When the government cannot provide jobs, some people have adopted this business model which ensures a regular income, more than from their previous jobs.
Next time you hire a taxi, talk to the driver. He will have a story to tell; it may be inspiring or may give you a peek into changing India. It may also hit you that some of them need more training and better soft skills.
Bans of any kind don’t work, effective regulation does. Self-regulatory mechanism built into the aggregators’ system coupled with public pressure may prompt them to evolve as a robust medium of transit. Otherwise, another disruptive technology may force them out. And they know it.