Karnataka govt to clarify carpooling issue in 10 days; no ban until then
With news about Karnataka government’s ban on carpooling causing outrage among citizens, government officials met with industry stakeholders on October 3 to discuss possible solutions. The government says it will come back in 10 days on further steps.
Carpooling app startups, such asand Rideshare, in a petition to the Karnataka government, have clarified that carpooling cannot be classified as a commercial activity as there is no objective for the ride provider to derive any profit or other financial gains.
Their goal is to alleviate traffic congestion and curb emissions by encouraging carpooling, the companies have said.
“Car owners are already travelling on a predefined route, for their own purpose, and are willing to share their empty seats to members from the same company, tech park, or apartment,” read the letter to the Karnataka transport ministry, seen by YourStory.
The petition was in response to the Karnataka Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy’s insistence that vehicles offering carpooling services in the state must be registered as commercial vehicles if they wanted to continue operations.
In a city that’s considering levying a congestion tax to ease traffic flow and deter people from using their personal vehicles to commute, the decision to ban carpooling seems antithetical and not well thought out, says a carpool service operator, who did not wish to be named.
“This is the government working against the people … Carpooling is a social service, but the government has to appease the taxi union; so they’ve decided to toss us out in the rain,” he adds.
It all began when news reports emerged that the Karnataka government had decided to crack down on the operations of app-based carpooling services and penalise people engaged on the app with hefty fines and suspension of vehicle registration certificates.
However, on Tuesday, transport minister Reddy clarified on his social media handle that carpooling had not been banned.
“First, let them take permission,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
This is something most companies say they are fine with. However, they have an issue with the statement that followed: “Commercial vehicles with yellow number plates can be used for carpooling by following appropriate guidelines.”
Carpool operators argue that they cannot be clubbed with commercial passenger services like taxis and that carpooling is a social service wherein good Samaritans offer colleagues and others a ride in their private cars for no financial benefit beyond recovering the fuel cost of the drive.
For instance, Quick Ride charges passengers a small fee mainly to compensate the driver for fuel costs. It deducts 5% as platform fees and passes on the rest to the driver for facilitating the carpool. The driver also gets additional coins or points for offering the ride, which they can redeem when they join someone else’s carpool.
“Carpooling is nothing but a group of colleagues/neighbours coming together to share/rotate vehicles and share the ride cost,” carpooling companies wrote in the letter to the state government.
The letter also refers to the NITI Aayog’s definition of carpooling, discussed at the Global Mobility Summit, to clarify the distinction between a commercial vehicle (a vehicle with yellow plate) and a personal vehicle used for carpooling:
Ridesharing (carpooling and vanpooling): Ridesharing is similar to ride-sourcing in which trips are shared by travellers, with the exception that drivers are not considered ‘for-hire’, though they can receive some forms of compensation to recover their cost. Ridesharing can be acquaintance-based, organisation-based, or ad-hoc.
Checks and balances
At a meeting on October 3 (Tuesday) between industry stakeholders and government officials, the latter highlighted the various mechanisms that have been deployed to prevent carpooling from evolving into a quasi-taxi operation.
- Restricting the ride offerer or car owner to proffer a maximum of two carpool rides daily
- Mandating travel exclusively along pre-established and publicly disclosed routes with an absolute prohibition on any route deviations
- Rotating the carpooling services among a large network so that people can take turns offering carpool rides
The letter, addressed to Karnataka’s Minister of Transport, noted the success that countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the US have had in adopting carpooling and, more importantly, creating regulations around it.
“I’ve been making representations and writing to the government to create regulation around carpooling since 2017,” says Quick Ride’s Founder and CEO, K N M Rao.
“It hasn’t been easy to convince people to share their personal space with colleagues or neighbours … I’ve stood in parking lots for hours on end, handing out flyers and convincing people to carpool, and this move really sets the entire effort back by months,” he laments.
The move by the state government comes at a time when Bengaluru has been struggling with traffic woes and vehicular congestion. Just recently, one of the city's major IT corridors, Outer Ring Road, faced severe congestion, with vehicles taking up to two hours to traverse just a kilometre.
To tide over these issues, IT companies in Bengaluru have been encouraging their employees to adopt greener means of transportation, including public transport, company buses, as well as carpooling.
According to Frost & Sullivan, carpooling can eliminate 2.49 million vehicles a year from the roads, globally, by 2025.
Quick Ride claims its carpooling service has contributed to a reduction of over 5,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions through more than 1.85 crore carpooling rides in Bengaluru, facilitated by over 13 lakh professionals from companies such as Wipro, Infosys, IBM, and HCL.
In fact, the central government too has been in favour of carpooling. In 2021, the government told the Supreme Court that, instead of asking employees to work from home—despite the rise in pollution levels in Delhi—it had advised employees to resort to carpooling to alleviate congestion and reduce emissions and deterioration of air quality.
“To be clear, the Karnataka government hasn’t outlawed carpooling—it has just made it much, much harder for people to carpool by telling them to switch to yellow plates. Who will bother taking the effort?” says the carpool app operator quoted earlier.
For now, the Karnataka government has granted Quick Ride, Rideshare and similar platforms permission to keep operating, with the rider that the government will reconvene for further deliberations in ten days.
(Feature image by Nihar Apte)
Edited by Swetha Kannan