Creative interpretation of the law isn’t enough though. Beyond that lies actual enforcement. Legal experts The Ken spoke to explain why the regulatory creep in Ola’s case has turned into regulatory laxity when it comes to Rapido. “Since Ola had a license to lose, the authorities used it to wield a stick when Ola flouted bike-taxi norms. But it’s not possible to mete out a similar punishment to Rapido if they are found in violation,” says the Bengaluru-based lawyer quoted above. He adds that shutting down Ola also makes a bigger splash than coming down on a smaller player like Rapido.
The number of Rapido rides in Bengaluru. Of these, 30% are Swiggy delivery rides, says co-founder Aravind Sanka.
In Hyderabad, Rapido’s branched out to offering deliveries through their app as well
While Ola reiterated its commitment to running bike-taxis in an emailed response to The Ken, Uber did not participate in the story.
Yellow License Plates
What also helps is that there’s no way to tell a commercial ride apart from personal bikes. Karnataka does not hand out yellow license plates yet. “If I was caught by the police, I would just lie about the pillion rider,” says a Rapido Captain from Bengaluru.
Sanka, though, thinks it’s only a matter of time before all states’ RTOs greenlight bike-taxi services. In the meantime, Rapido plans to keep operating on white number plates. While Captains are assisted in applying for yellow plates by Rapido, there is no downtime during the waiting period. “We have the permission with us, so we continue to run on white number plates till the license comes through,” adds Sanka. This, he says, is their mode of operating in most states where the central government recommendations have been taken up.
But what about running on white plates in a state like Karnataka? “We will keep fighting until a clear regulation or direction is passed. It’s what we’ve always done,” says Sanka. He adds that Rapido is launching in another four states in the coming months, having convinced authorities of Rapido’s interpretation of the Centre’s recommendations. He declined to name these states to protect Rapido’s competitive advantage.
Hopes of the State Government
Even as Rapido eludes the regulator’s grasp, bigger mobility companies are finessing their pitches. For instance, in Telangana, Haryana, and Punjab, bike-taxis have been allowed by the state government in the hope that they generate jobs and income. Now, senior officials at Ola want to position bike-taxis as a job creation scheme, in addition to last-mile connectivity. This, though, is unlikely to fly in Karnataka.
“It’s very clear that the priority behind legalizing bike-taxis here is not jobs. Bike-taxis have been evaluated by the committee based on whether they will reduce congestion from the streets,” says one of the Karnataka committee’s members.
High-level committee recommendations
The high-level committee’s recommendations were finalized and sent to the government for review in April. According to information sourced by The Ken from two committee members, these recommendations are against legalizing bike-taxis in Karnataka. “The transport department has picked its battles. And bike-taxis isn’t one of them,” says the committee member quoted above. This, he adds, could change if the state follows the Centre’s progressive stance.
Greenlight for one of its top ten cities, even retroactively, will boost Rapido’s fortunes.
But six months in, 2019 hasn’t been great for bike-taxis. The Bengaluru Regional Transport Office has filed a complaint with the cybercrime department against Rapido’s operations. According to information sourced by The Ken, the Karnataka High Court has asked the government for a status update on the complaint. And while Ola’s petition has been adjourned, it’s left the Court scratching its head over why the 272 Rapido bikes seized in April have all been released. “This is part of running an operation. We help retrieve the bikes, pay the penalty and then it’s business as usual for us,” says Sanka.