The government has made the 'Ridesharing Service Policy, 2017' effective from March 8 this year through a gazette notification issued on 28 February. This has been a commendable move for making these hitherto illegal services legal and bringing them under a regulated regime. But as reported in the media, many loopholes remain, which need to be addressed quickly. Besides, rules and regulations should also be formulated in line with relevant law for ensuring operational transparency-cum-accountability in the sector.
A fast increasing number of motor vehicles is contributing to massive gridlocks on the roads in cities like Dhaka and Chattogram. As a consequence, fuels, human energy and valuable working hours of people are getting wasted. Against this backdrop, ridesharing services, conceptualised and implemented first in the United States of America, made their way into the country. Under the system, personal motor vehicles are used in carrying passengers by linking up passengers and drivers through internet-based software applications. GPS navigation devices, smart-phones and social networks are used in the operation. Uber started this service in Dhaka in late 2016 and others followed soon. So, an official policy on ridesharing was required in Bangladesh, as commercial use of private vehicles was prohibited under the Motor Vehicles Ordinance (MVO) of 1983.
The Ridesharing Service Policy, 2017 contains eight broad sections. Section-A spells out the conditions for operating such a service, including obtaining a 'Ridesharing Service Provider Enlistment Certificate' from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). But although this section stipulates the minimum number of vehicles that a service provider can keep in its fleet, there is no maximum ceiling. Observers apprehend that lack of maximum limit may lead to further choking of city roads on account of too many vehicles. Section-B of the policy spells out the responsibilities and obligations of ridesharing service providers based on 12 conditions, which are exhaustive. Section-C outlines the procedure for sanctioning enlistment certificates to the service providers. But an enlistment fee of only Taka 100 thousand for a year appear to be too inadequate in comparison to the massive volume of business conducted in the sector. The renewal fee of Taka 10 thousand also appears to be insufficient. Section-D dwells on the procedure for sanctioning enlistment certificates to the ridesharing motor vehicles, including the documents to be submitted for the purpose. The fees of Taka 500 for motorcycles and Taka 1,000 for other vehicles again appear to be too low for a certificate that would remain valid for 3 years. Section-E stipulates that fares of ridesharing cars cannot exceed the amounts mentioned in 'Taxicab Service Guideline, 2010'. But no mention has been made about motorcycle fares in this section.
The policy should have included stricter background checks for ridesharing car owners and drivers. Besides, enlistment fees could be varied progressively based on the size of service providers and fare rates could be fixed separately for different categories of vehicles plying on different routes. It could also include provisions for ensuring passenger safety, minimising the risk of harassment, preventing accidents, as well as mandatory accident insurance policies for passengers. A review of the policy is certainly called for on evaluation of stakeholders' feedback.
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