Bike taxis provide affordable and flexible first-and last-mile connectivity solutions, can generate huge employment opportunities, boost the local economy, and reduce pressure on public transport
It is a common experience to face traffic jams while going to airports, railway stations, and meetings, with frayed tempers seeing two-wheelers weaving in and out. India is among the countries with the most congested cities with traffic snarls.
With increasing urbanisation and growing road traffic, bike taxis are a convenient and affordable paratransit option for first and last-mile linkages, which needs to be encouraged through a regulatory and facilitative policy regime.
Bike taxis are quite popular in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. These are also common in many Southeast Asian Countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia with aggregators like Gojek. They are also widely prevalent in African countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, etc.
In India, several states and Union Territories have also permitted bike taxis. Goa was the first in 1981, and Mizoram in 2016 with the condition that bike must be less than two years old, the driver wears a yellow helmet, and the bike has a yellow number plate. Later some others joined, like AP, Haryana, Gujarat, Telangana, West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh etc. However, there have been pockets of resistance at places from vested interests despite wider public welcome.
Let us look at the regulatory architecture. Road transport legally falls under the Concurrent List, allowing both Centre and state governments to frame and enforce rules and regulations. In 2004, the Centre allowed motorbikes to be used as transport vehicles, permitting them to carry one pillion passenger on hire. In 2016, a committee of the ministry of road transport and highways recommended that state transport departments could allow two-wheeler taxi permits on the same conditions as city taxis. The government stated in parliament in December 2018 that states may issue permits for bike taxis under sections 72 and 73 of the Motor Vehicles Act. The government favoured this shared mobility, which will help reduce the congestion in cities and ease traffic jams.
Bike taxis are fast becoming popular where introduced. In Gurugram, bookings doubled within seven months; commuters liked economical, readily available app-based hyper-local speedier option. Environmentally, these cause lower pollution (zero pollution with e-vehicles) with no pressure on parking. Some studies reveal that the average speed of vehicles in several metros is below 15-17 kmph, adding to fuel wastage, slower travel, environmental pollution and health hazards. On the other hand, bike taxis can easily go up to 30 kmph. According to one study by IIT Madras, the economic cost of congestion in a city like Delhi is $8.9 billion per annum, which might go up to $15 billion by 2030.
India has over 210 million registered two-wheelers, the largest in the world and over 70 million registered four-wheelers. Two-wheelers are the most widely used transport by the middle class. As pressure on urban spaces and roads increases, there is a need to find alternative paratransit transportation like taxis, auto rickshaws and bike taxis. In fact, if the existing private bikes are allowed for such transportation, with suitable regulations and safeguards, training and other safety features, it will facilitate the utilisation of idle assets and convert many of them into micro-entrepreneurs. It is estimated that India’s bike taxi industry has the potential to generate over two million jobs and US$ 5 billion in revenue.
Bike taxis can be registered as contract carriages in states, provided the pillion rider is given a helmet and has minimal baggage during the travel. Karnataka permitted electric bike taxis to operate under the Karnataka Electric Bike Taxi Scheme 2021. The scheme requires the name and details of the service provider displayed on the exterior of the e-bike, operating within a distance limit of 10 km, training to the driver, mandated use of helmets, reflective jackets, first-aid kits and emergency response numbers. In addition, any aggregator operating more than 50 bike taxis needed GPS tracking.
The country’s leading app-based taxi operators, Uber and Ola, have also introduced a bike-taxi service (Uber calls its two-wheeler service Uber Moto). They plan to cover most major cities, helping people commute seamlessly. It has been found that over 50 per cent of trips begin or end at a metro station or bus, making these bike taxis a convenient, affordable, reliable and safe last-mile connectivity solution.
Another major operator, Rapido, the oldest entrant in the segment, operates solely in the two-wheeler rental space. The Rapido app has hit the 10 million mark in downloads and is rapidly adding new users daily. It also became the first company to launch dedicated bikes for differently abled “captains” in Chennai.
Bike taxis can also add to logistics for emergencies and hyper-local deliveries.
There is no doubt that bike taxis have a number of advantages for a country like India, with its vast middle class, growing pressure on roads and limited parking spaces. Bike taxis provide affordable and flexible first-and last-mile connectivity solutions, can generate huge employment opportunities, boost the local economy, save commuters’ time, reduce pressure on public transport and add to the overall economic growth, leading to our 5 trillion economy goal faster. This is the time to encourage its usage with facilitative regulatory and policy eco-system.
The writer is former secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and has served as India’s executive director at the World Bank and as chairman, CCI
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. They do not reflect the view/s of Business Standard.