A taxi driver assaulted a Pathao rider on March 22, 2021 in Gongabu, Kathmandu, alleging that the Pathao rider lured his customer away by offering a low fare. This conflict has reignited a debate over the service of ride-hailing apps like Pathao and Tootle. Meanwhile, the uproar has brought attention to the urgent need for legislation to govern them.
The controversy began in December 2016, when Tootle unveiled a ride-sharing program for motorcycles and taxis. At the time, the government reacted by stating that ferrying passengers in private vehicles was illegal.
Not only government leaders, but also transportation entrepreneurs have attempted to put a stop to this service on several occasions. However, due to the widespread popularity of the apps among service users, the government has been unable to either shut down or legitimize the service. As a result, there have been unresolved concerns in this industry.
Concerns about the law
Since the ride-sharing program has not been incorporated into the legal system for a long time, drivers, operators, traffic cops, and officials from the Department of Transportation Management are all perplexed.
Asheem Man Singh Basnyat, Pathao’s regional director, says that since the government has not enacted a law to address this problem, many difficulties have arisen in the operation of the service.
According to public transportation expert Ashish Gajurel, if the problem of technology usage in transportation is not resolved rapidly by enacting legislation, it would have detrimental implications for other modes of transportation.
The government’s indifference, according to Gajurel, has resulted in conflicts between riders, drivers, transportation entrepreneurs, ride-sharing firms, and the government.
“The government’s propensity to remain quiet by not resolving immediate conflicts has increased the likelihood that the service would become inefficient, of low quality, and unsafe,” he continues.
Gajurel also claims that formulating the rules is not difficult if one studies the procedure in neighboring countries such as India and Bangladesh.
The attempt at legalization
Tootle and Pathao are not registered with the Department of Transport Management, but with the Office of the Company Registrar. As a result, the department has no authority over these enterprises.
Furthermore, the Department of Transportation has repeatedly stated that using private cars to pick up passengers is unconstitutional. Articles 8 (1) and 12 of the Motor Vehicles and Transport Management Act of 1993 also address it.
According to Lok Nath Bhusal, the department’s spokesperson, it has been suggested in the draft of the Federal Motor Vehicles and Transport Management Bill to make arrangements to take/give passenger services from the ride-sharing app.
“The draft has been sent to the ministry. We will control the ride-sharing service by issuing procedures until it enters the parliament and becomes law,” he says.
Authorities are in a pickle.
However, the authorities are likely to be stuck in a bind before then.
The government had repeatedly advised companies to discontinue this service under the Motor Vehicles and Transportation Management Act. Some of the riders were also detained by traffic cops. Every time, however, the government’s move was met with widespread resistance from service users and the general public. Following the demonstrations, the government eventually directed that the action against ride-sharing services be halted.
Not only the government, but the Patan High Court, in hearing a petition filed by a taxi owners’ association, had also directed that ride-sharing services not be stopped immediately and that required laws be enforced after the public voted in favor of ride-sharing services.
The matter was brought to court after taxi drivers protested Tootle and Pathao in front of the Department of Transportation Management on March 10, 2020. All of this has resulted in a great deal of ambiguity surrounding this service.
In the meantime, service providers are defying the government’s order to shut down the service. The government faces a moral dilemma in banning such services because passengers enjoy them.
Meanwhile, the provincial government of Bagmati has enacted legislation allowing private vehicles to operate for public purposes in designated areas for a fixed fare. The power to control transportation has moved from the center to the provinces following the adoption of the 2015 constitution.
The provincial government, on the other hand, has yet to issue regulations or create a system for registering such businesses.
Meanwhile, the province’s legislation is being questioned by the transportation industry. They believe that provincial laws do not conflict with federal laws.
Transport entrepreneurs have been opposing the federal government’s act because they are losing money due to Tootle and Pathao. The propensity of the government to remain silent even when private vehicles ferry passengers, according to Saroj Sitaula, general secretary of the Federation of Nepali National Transport Entrepreneurs, is a mockery of the rule of law.