If you don’t restrict the market you don’t need to restrict the price.
The Mumbai auto drivers followed their brethren in Paris and New York and went on a one-day strike against the growing number of cab-aggregator services in the city. The strike itself is a testimony to the popularity of these new and innovative means of urban transportation. It shows that people are interested in trying out new options if it helps them save time and money. The resistance from the entrenched players is obvious but what is not obvious is what the government will do about it. The confusion begins right from the start, is this public transport or private transport?
We generally refer to autos and taxis as public transport even if they are privately owned. Perhaps because the government mandates many things that the autos need to do. The color, the fare, the uniform, even the number of autos that can be on the roads is fixed by the government. In fact, the increase in the permit charges from 200 to 10000 is one of the reasons for the strike. But why would a government try to restrict the number of autos (by increasing the price of the permit or not allowing more permits)? If there are more people who want to commute by autos, then shouldn’t there be more autos on the road? The reason generally given is to protect the livelihoods of the auto drivers. Then why are the auto drivers themselves striking against the decision?
The auto drivers in Mumbai are one of the best in the country when it comes to plying by meter. But will they be now tempted to do surge pricing as well? The way to control surge pricing is not by capping it. But by allowing more vehicles and drivers to offer their services. This is beneficial for both drivers as well as passengers. The central government sent out an advisory in July of 2015 and Karnataka State Government has come out with its own policy for regulating the cab-aggregators. Both policies have focused on treating this new phenomenon like traditional auto or a taxi service. Which it is most definitely, not.
Safety should be the chief concern of these regulations. Other operational parameters like prices, hours of service, etc. should not be unnecessarily regulated. Urban public transport is in desperate need of innovation and the government should do all it can to support it. Greater use of such services will result in less vehicles on the road and easing of pressure on the current municipal transport systems. Both would benefit the poor who are dependent on fast and cheap public transport for their everyday needs. Creating a regulatory framework which puts safety and ease of compliance at its heart would be a step in the right direction in this regard.
Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya