Uber veers off the road in Dhaka

The ride-sharing firm, whose 2015 revenue was 1.5 billion US dollars, did not bother to seek permission from authorities

Shamim A. Zahedy

Dhakaites’ hope for the world’s largest on-demand mobile apps-based Uber taxi services was punctured soon after it was launched by the San Francisco-based tech company that has literally revolutionised taxi experience throughout the world. Only three days into the commissioning of the service, the country’s transport regulator, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), declared Uber illegal for rolling out its service in Dhaka without permission from the authorities.

Uber’s disputes with authorities and rival traditional taxi companies are something that is not new. But the case here in Bangladesh was  curious, strange and unusual as it seemed as the multinational Uber took Dhaka market for a ride. The ride-sharing firm, whose 2015 revenue was 1.5 billion US dollars, did not bother to seek permission from authorities. And Uber, which is available in over 74 countries and 450 cities worldwide, is yet to come up with plausible clarifications in its defence to roll out the service without the regulatory consents.

Instead, according to media reports, Uber, which has partnered with Bangladesh’s largest telecom operator Grameenphone to offer the service, took a zigzag road that should not have been chosen in the first place. The company, which employs over 6,000 people worldwide, contacted Bangla­desh’s Road Trans­port and Bridges Minister, Obaidul Quader, on his mobile phone in a bid to find solutions to settle the dispute. However, the minister is learned to have suggested it to speak to BRTA.

Unfortunately, Uber has nobody to blame but itself for the fiasco, although it says in its website, “Uber is passionate about making your city better. That’s why we partner with thousands of locals who keep Dhaka moving. Together we’re energising the local economy, helping make streets safer from drunk driving, and fostering a less congested environment.”

Contrary to the populist hoopla that BRTA has committed a crime by going tough against the on-demand transport service Uber, no one is asking, rather curiously, the multinational company to abide by the law of the land. Uber now must find an amicable way to resume the drive in Dhaka, which is its 33rd destination in South Asia.

The BRTA has issued a circular declaring the service illegal, unlawful and a punishable offe­nce. In its notice published in different newspapers, it said that if any company launches taxicab service, it requires to take permission from the Road Transport and Highway division through BRTA as per the ‘Taxicab Service Guideline, 2010’. The notice also said the online-based Uber is launching the service illegally, which is contradictory to Motor Vehicles Ordinance. It also has advised the vehicle owners and drivers of Uber not to continue the service.

When there have been honks on the roads over the Uber issue, local startups that are trying to roll in commercial motorbike ride sharing services in Dhaka—known for congested roads and lanes—are left out.

Apps for motorbike ride sharing developed by local entrepreneurs have gained quite popularity in Dhaka, a city with a population of around 15 millions and a density of 45,000 people per square kilometer.

Dhaka now at least has four ride-hailing services but all are awaiting formal approval from authorities. BRTA took the same stand against the local startups, saying they are not legal. The motor-bike sharing services—‘Share a Motorcycle’, ‘Oi Khali’, ‘Aamarbike’ and ‘Chalo’—still have not become omnipresent in Dhaka’s commuting scenario.

Imtiaz Kasem, managing director of DataVoxel which developed the app ‘Share a Motorcycle’, wants a quick regulatory fix. But his voice like Anista Mahajabeen, CEO of ‘Oi Khali’, Dewan Shuvo, CEO of ‘Chalo’, and Navil Mostafa, CEO of ‘Amarbike’ who expressed similar concerns, still remains unheard.

For apps such as the SAM (Share a Motorcycle) a biker or a rider has to get registered with the companies. After the registration, apps match riders with bikers having the same destination. For example, one person is at Motijheel and looking for a ride, the person can put current location and desired destination, the available bikers in the vicinity, travelling on the same route and towards the same destination, will respond. While the minimum amount is Tk 30 for SAM, the biker will get 80 per cent of the amount and SAM will take 20 per cent. The payment is designed completely cashless.

But blocking Uber and the local ride-sharing startups is not welcome, if they follow the required guidelines. Yes, the apps are not just internet-based software negotiating ways in the cloud rather they involve movement of vehicles on Dhaka’s traffic-clogged streets: so the ride-sharing services should definitely have regulatory approvals and guidelines. 

When Bangladesh is trying hard to woo foreign direct investment, finding Uber in the porch is heartening as it ‘uses technology to make cities more accessible while reducing congestion and pollution’.

Bangladesh authorities at the same time must ensure even roads for both multinationals and locals when it comes to approval process and revenue sharing both on the road and off the road.

First appeared :  30 November, 2016 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 30 May, 2017 03:21:54 PM


The writer is Executive Editor of The Independent.

E-Mail : shamim.zahedy@theindependentbd.com

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