Ride partners perplexed on ride-sharing companies crackdown

- Timothy Aryal, Kathmandu

Jan 17, 2019-

On Saturday evening, Hari Khadka, 19, was riding his Honda Dio scooter along the Bhrikutimandap-Durbarmarg road stretch. He was returning from Sarkarki Dhara, where he had dropped off a Tootle customer, and was heading towards Hotel Annapurna in Durbarmarg to pick up his brother.

Just a few hundred metres away from the hotel, he had parked his scooter to check the map, just to make sure that he was on the right way to the hotel. Just when he put his phone back into his pocket, he saw a man in front of him, who asked him “if he was from Tootle”.  When Khadka replied positively, seven men came forward and nagged him.

The men, whom he later identified as taxi drivers, surrendered Khadka to the police who then confiscated Khadka’s scooter. Khadka was let go after a while, but his scooter remained in custody. He came back for his ride the following morning and had to pay Rs1,000 as fine. Khadka had been using both Pathao and Tootle apps to ferry pillion riders for over a month—as a way to cash in some extra money. But after the incident on Saturday, he says he doesn’t have the courage to use the apps. In fact, he has already signed up for another part-time job at Foodmandu, a food delivery company, only yesterday.

Like Khadka, four other ride-partners or bikers were also nabbed by the Metropolitan Police Office over the weekend in Kathmandu. The Metropolitan Police has been citing the Transport Management Act-1993—which mentions that ferrying passengers on vehicles with a red number plate is illegal—as reason for nabbing ride-partners.

The incident has left Anikesh Magar, another ride-partner in Kathmandu, concerned. The 30-year-old Solukhumbu native is able to secure work opportunities as a tourist guide during the mountaineering season, but idles his time away during off-season. However, three months ago, when he was returning to Kathmandu from one of his trips to the northern hills, one of his clients, a Japanese tourist, suggested he try giving rides on a ride-sharing app. Magar then downloaded Pathao, a ride-sharing platform that came into operation in Nepal about four months ago. “It sounded like a great idea,” Magar told the Post. “I have a lot of spare time during off season until last year. I spend it drinking and hanging out with friends. But this season, I have another job.”

While guiding tourists make him some money, it is not quite enough for him, he said. By providing rides through the ride-sharing app, Magar has been making around Rs30,000 in net total, that is by discounting the fuel and servicing charge. “I am happy with this new-found income source,” Magar said. “Serving others is never bad. And all of the passengers I have travelled with are happy too. It satisfies me and it’s good to know that they’re satisfied as well.”

But the extra income source for Magar may come to a halt if the Metropolitan Police starts to nab riders like him aggressively. “If it’s really illegal then the government should hold the companies who run the app accountable. What’s the point of disturbing our source of income or forcing us to pay penalty?” he said, referring to the news of the Police’s crackdown on ride-partners.

Likewise, Rajesh KC, a 36-year-old man who returned from his foreign employment stint in Dubai a couple of years ago, has been using the Tootle app to provide rides since last year. Initially, he used to work as a full-time ride provider (which earned him around Rs15,000 a month), but he has recently been limiting his rides to only mornings and evenings, making around Rs7,000. Besides riding for Tootle, KC also owns a shop that sells drinking water. “Tootle makes for a significant chunk of my income,” KC said. According to him, while he is unaware of the laws, the government’s decision to nab riders is by all accounts “untoward”. “This is just one more incident that highlights unfairness. Those who commit big crimes and scandals roam around openly, while we, who are just trying to make some extra income, suffer,” KC said.

Shashank Shumsher Thapa, assistant manager at Pathao, said that many of the app’s riders have been “threatened” since the news broke out. “The government has been ignorant of the big-name hotels ferrying their customers in red number plate vehicles, but has punished riders using our apps. How is this fair?” Thapa told the Post. “Ride-sharing platforms have become the norm in many countries around the world. But our government has been punishing our riders on the grounds of laws that are decades old.”

Since news broke out about police personnel nabbing ride-sharers, many have taken to social media to voice their opinions on the issue. Social media users have already started using hashtags such as #isupport to voice their support for the ride-sharing apps. On Facebook, Nikita Acharya, CEO of the online gift shop Urban Girl, wrote, “I hope [our] government considers the voice of youths and entrepreneurs in the system they build. I am sure if it’s ride sharing business today, it will be food delivery and e-commerce tomorrow. And a lot of other innovations are yet to be built in near future which we might not have even imagined now. Shutting all [of them] down would just take ... [us] backwards. Preparing for the future is what a progressive nation is supposed to do… let’s talk more about the laws we need to change and put our voices on HOW it can be done.”

Likewise, Ajay Shrestha, director of the coffee outlet Kaffeine, wrote on Facebook, “Pathao and Tootle reminds me of our startup that the government killed three years ago… Government is always reactive, never proactive… Fight must go on till government learns and updates itself. They can try to stop our startup but they can never stop our spirit of entrepreneurship.” With the police clamping down on ride-sharers, some people like Khadka have already shifted to another part-time job, but some, like the two other ride-partners The Post talked to, say that they have not stopped giving rides and have no plans to do so anytime soon. “Making some extra cash while providing someone an easy ride is no crime,” KC told the Post.

Don’t stop ride-sharing companies: PM

Anil Giri

After huge public outrage, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Wednesday instructed Physical Infrastructure and Transport Minister Raghubir Mahaseth not to stop the service of motorcycle ride-sharing companies like Tootle and Pathao.

In a meeting where senior ministers, including Mahaseth, were present, the PM said that it is not appropriate to crackdown on such public service providers.

On Monday, the Metropolitan Traffic Police, in Kathmandu, had detained five motorcyclists who were associated with ride-hailing apps and impounded their motorcycles. The bikers were fined Rs 1,000 each and then let go.

The crackdown continued on Tuesday and Wednesday too, with officials claiming that these service providers should register as per the Nepali law.

Published: 17-01-2019 08:22

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