Bengaluru: Drivers of cabs and auto rickshaws in Karnataka, upset over a recent order by the state government permitting electric bikes to operate as taxis, held a protest rally in Bengaluru on Thursday and demanded that the directive be withdrawn.

“Auto rickshaw and taxi drivers will get fewer rides. They have already been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Tanveer Pasha, president of the Ola Uber Drivers and Owners Association. About 200 association members marched to the traffic commissioner’s office and handed over a petition to seek withdrawal of the order, he said.

The association will wait for a couple of weeks and take further steps based on the government’s response.

“If we don’t get a positive response, all auto rickshaw and taxi drivers along with the unions will conduct a massive protest across Bangalore and go on an indefinite strike,” he said.

According to N Shivakumar, commissioner for transport and road safety, the government is unlikely to withdraw permission. “It will be a different class of people who will use electric bike taxis. We have reassured them of that, but they are apprehensive,” he said.

Though bike taxis with a single passenger riding pillion have been operating for some time, their legal status has been unclear. Drivers were often stopped and harassed by the local police, following which bike taxi companies filed a petition in Karnataka High Court. The court recently directed the state to provide clarity on the issue.

The state government
unveiled its electric bike taxi scheme earlier this month. In the notification, the government said while cities were grappling with issues of massive traffic jams, there is an urgent need for affordable first- and last-mile connectivity. “Bike taxis will promote urban mobility and will act as a first- and last-mile connectivity solution for citizens which in turn assist people to access the public transport and specially for accessing metro services,” the order said.

The scheme only allows electric bike taxis to operate, not those that run on conventional fuels, mainly petrol.

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