Ride-hailing apps and the gig workers who earn through them are struggling to navigate tricky Indian laws — yet again.
Last week, the southern Indian state of Karnataka banned auto rickshaws from being listed on apps like Uber and Ola. The decision was taken following complaints of users being overcharged. Local media reports indicate that despite the ban, some auto-rickshaw drivers continue to use these apps. Through surprise inspections, traffic police in Karnataka’s capital city, Bengaluru, have begun levying a penalty of 5,000 rupees ($61) on three-wheeler drivers who still use these apps.
“Users are being hurt, but gig workers are going to be hurt more,” Soujanya Sridharan, platform researcher at Aapti Institute, told me. “The gig worker community is in favor of imposing caps on [this] pricing, as opposed to completely doing away with aggregators for autos.” On October 14, Ola and Uber obtained an interim order against driver coercion by the police, but the court has asked aggregators to charge customers only 10% of the base fare as convenience fees.
This isn’t the first time a state has announced a sudden, significant policy change for ride aggregators. India’s Motor Vehicle Act, 2020 allows individual states to set regulations for ride-hailing aggregators, which means Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru have come up with independent guidelines that vastly vary from each other.
Delhi, for instance, has mandated all bike-taxis operating in the city to transition their fleet to electric. In Mumbai, the licenses of aggregator platforms are under attack because of an ongoing litigation that accuses apps of a failure to offer sufficient grievance redressal mechanisms.
“There is incoherence between how different jurisdictions within the country decide to govern motor vehicles,” Sridharan said. “Unfortunately, both platforms as well as gig workers are in a race to catch up with these changing regulations. And all of these [laws] are being notified at a pace that nobody seems to be able to keep track [of].”
Of course, the way ride-hailing platforms operate is not without complaints, and there’s a long history of gig workers pushing back against platforms charging exorbitant commissions. It has led to the emergence of driver union-backed apps, such as Namma Yatri and Peace Auto, to challenge Ola and Uber.
But state governments have to carefully consider the multiple trade-offs in enforcing sweeping policies.
With Delhi, for instance, “the key question to answer is what a just transition to electric fleet looks like,” said Sarayu Natarajan, founder of the Aapti Institute. “It’s the balancing of dual policy aims: On one hand is transition to EVs and reducing pollution, and on the other is making sure the policy accounts for the concerns of platform workers.”