Kolkata: The West Bengal government plans to take action against operators of app-based cab services such as Uber and Ola, including suspending their licence, if they do not comply with regulations to improve passenger safety before 15 September.
The state’s transport department has mandated that taxis be fitted with cameras and a panic button which passengers can use to alert the police in the event of an emergency.
The administration also wants app-based cab operators to engage external agencies to scrutinise antecedents of drivers over at least the past seven years and run control rooms round-the-clock to monitor their movement.
In the wake of last week’s brutal rape and murder of a 12-year-old street dweller, allegedly inside a cab by its driver, the state government has taken the stand that if they want to operate in Kolkata, aggregators such as Uber and Ola must comply with the new norms, officials said.
The transport department will have “no option but to think differently" if the app-based cab operators do not fall in line by 15 September, said Alapan Bandyopadhyay, principal secretary in the transport department.
“There is no question of being lenient with them anymore," said a key home department official, asking not to be named.
Described technically by the state government of West Bengal as ‘on-demand transport technology aggregators’, taxi-hailing service providers such as Uber Technologies Inc. and ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd (which operates Ola) need to obtain a licence from the transport department to operate in Kolkata, in addition to the one required by the owners of all cabs to ply commercial vehicles.
So far, the administration has not seen any move by app-based cab operators to comply with the new regulations which were notified last December, said another transport department official, asking not to be named.
They have already missed one deadline and will not be given time beyond 15 September, he added. Licences are to be suspended and may be renewed only for compliant cab service operators after due inspection, the person said.
Spokespersons for Ola and Uber declined to comment.
In an interview with news agency Press Trust of India last month, Ashwin Dias, Uber’s general manager (east), said his company was unable to expand its fleet in Kolkata because the transport department had stopped issuing new licences for cabs.
According to Dias, Uber was supporting 10,000 people in Kolkata and looking to double that number. However, he said, it was unable to do so because it had become impossible to launch new cabs.
Until six months ago, the state government was “quite generous" about granting licences to launch new cabs in Kolkata. But licences are not being issued immediately because of various issues including “reluctance" among app-based cab operators to comply with the new norms, said the transport department official cited above.
Traditional cabbies, who have not joined the aggregators, had initially pressured the state government to give them protection against app-based services such as Uber and Ola.
The government instead offered traditional cab operators technological support to set up their own aggregator—a plan that has not yet materialised—but continued to allow app-based cab services to expand in the city.
It even offered a subsidy of up to ₹ 1 lakh to unemployed people with commercial driving licences to help them buy their own vehicles to shore up self-employment.