Ride Sharing Ventures In Nepal
With unprecedented development in information technology, new services have emerged, enabling people to enjoy their life in a new template of experience. Ride-sharing, also called ride-hailing, is one of them. Ride-sharing is an on-demand digital service that connects passengers and drivers. Unlike in public transport, ride-sharing drivers use their own private vehicles. The fares charged for such a facility are cheaper than taxi fares. That is why such a system is popular in many countries around the world such as the USA, India and Bangladesh.
Uber and Lyft are big ride-sharing companies in the world. Uber is headquartered in San Francisco. It provides peer-to-peer ride-sharing, taxicab-sharing, food delivery, bicycle-sharing and other services. Set up in 2009, it is in operation in 785 metropolitan cities around the world. Likewise, Lyft, which came into operation in 2012, operates in 30 US cities, including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Its business is huge, providing over one million rides a day. Likewise, Pathao was set up as a ride-sharing company in Bangladesh in 2015. Headquartered in Dhaka, it operates in Dhaka, Chiitagong and Sylhet. It has also undertaken e-commerce, merchant courier and food delivery services.
In Nepal, Tootle and Pathao are providing ride-sharing services. Tootle came into operation two years ago, whereas Pathao came into operation four months ago. Tootle has 12,000 riders, while Pathao has 30,000 riders. The ride-sharing services of these entities hogged the limelight the other day when the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) closed the services by taking action on four riders with a fine of Rs. 1,000 each. The Traffic Police took the move under the pressure of Nepal Metre Taxi Association, which lobbied hard with the MTPD to close the services, arguing that the services were in contravention of the Transport Management Act, 2049. As per the Act, private vehicles are not allowed to carry passengers.
This is the age of information technology. The government is also planning to make smart cities under the digital Nepal concept. The pace of information technology, which literally exploded during the dying years of the last century, has picked up momentum on an unprecedented scale. Without developing digital technology, the development of a country cannot be conceived of in the present-day context. So it will not be prudent to close digital services like ride-sharing. However, there should be a clear policy in place. It is not justifiable to start any digital service in violation of the law.
As soon as the ride-sharing services being provided by Tootle and Pathao were closed, the government came under fire from various quarters. And Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli stuck up for the services and directed the concerned bodies to allow the services to be resumed. The ride-sharing services are popular among passengers and commuters in the Kathmandu Valley. Public transport is in a shambles in the Valley. The problems of overcrowding and traffic snarl-ups, among others, are always there. In the evenings, it is even more difficult to find vehicles, which bothers passengers to a great extent. On the other hand, not everybody can afford a taxi-cab. On the one hand, taxi fares are costly, while on the other most of the cabbies are cheats. They do not ply on metre, which is mandatory as per the rules. So sick and tired of public transport and taxi services, more and more people have availed themselves of ride-sharing services.
The importance of ride-sharing services cannot be overstated in the present-day context. These services have offered people hassle-free services. On the other hand, some unemployed youths can provide such services as a means of livelihood. A rider working full time can earn Rs. 50,000 to 60,000 a month. However, people should exercise caution while taking such services. It may not be comfortable riding with strangers or an untoward incident may happen if riders are unscrupulous.
Ride-sharing services need to be given continuity. The concept may have developed during the Indian blockade in 2015-16. At the time, a scarcity of fuel troubled owners of vehicles, including motorcycles and cars, beyond measure. To steer clear of the problem, a car pooling arrangement emerged, whereby free lifts were given to those who needed them.
The Transport Management Act, 2049 is an obstacle to the operation of ride-sharing services in Nepal at present. Digital services like ride-sharing will continue to emerge. So it will not be prudent to close such services citing lack of a relevant law or contravention of the existing law. The government should either amend the Transport Management Act or develop a legal mechanism to allow ride-sharing and suchlike digital services. At the same time, it is imperative to develop guidelines for the smooth operation of the services. For example, there should be provision for insurance for both riders and passengers.
The government should identify digital services like ride-sharing with economic development. The government has batted for prosperity as one of its goals. Prosperity does not come on a platter. For this, infrastructure development is a sine qua non. And digital technology backstops other sectors of development.
In the final analysis, it would do well for the government to make reforms in public transport in consideration of the hassles people have to face every now and then. After all, people are entitled to hassle-free transport services, which are being provided by Tootle and Pathao. The ride-sharing services, which are now confined to the Kathmandu Valley in the form of bike-sharing services, need to be extended to other parts of the country as well after the relevant law or policy or legal mechanism has been in place.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000)