Don’t take pillion riders for a ride, HC tells bike taxi app

Observing that pillion riders should not end up being taken for a ride by bike taxi operators, the Madras High Court on Tuesday called for details regarding the process followed by owners of the mobile app Rapido, that facilitates bike-sharing, to verify whether the riders follow all statutory rules, such as wearing helmets and possessing insurance.

Justices Vineet Kothari and C.V. Karthikeyan directed senior counsel M.S. Krishnan, representing Roppen Transportation Services, owners of Rapido, to explain how the company ensured that the bike riders followed rules and regulations scrupulously.

The direction was issued during the hearing of a writ appeal preferred by the company against a single judge’s July 18 order. The judge had held that the appellant could not be permitted to operate until the State government framed rules regulating use of private four-wheelers and two-wheelers for services titled as bike taxi, call taxi and car pooling.

During the course of hearing of the appeal, it was brought to the notice of the Bench that it was originally a cab driver who had filed a writ petition before the single judge to restrain Rapido from operating in the State. When the case was pending, the police jumped the gun by writing to Google as well as Apple to pull down the mobile app from their platforms.

As a result, the app was pulled down by Apple, affecting Rapido’s services across the country. When the company challenged the action of the Chennai police by filing a writ petition, the single judge recorded the State government’s submission that the regulations would be framed within four months and ordered that Rapido should not be used in the State till then.

Stating that the sequence of events leads to several pertinent questions, the Bench, led by Justice Kothari, said it would require the assistance of Advocate General Vijay Narayan by Thursday to decide the issue.

Primarily, the judges wanted to know how the police could write to Google and Apple when the case was still pending in court.

No specific prohibition

Secondly, the judges wondered how the mobile app Rapido alone could be pulled down from Google and Apple platforms, when it was the case of the appellant that apps of other bike taxi companies were freely available.

Thirdly, the judges wanted to know why bike taxis should not be permitted in the State when there was no specific prohibition against operating such a service and the police were unable to point out any specific offence committed by the appellant company by facilitating private owners to offer their pillion seats to people in need.

In his submissions, Mr. Krishnan pointed out that Rapido was founded by three young IIT graduates and that it was as of now being operated without charging a single penny either from the main rider or the pillion rider. It only permits the owner of the motorcycles to collect fuel expenses from the pillion riders interested in using the app.

He said there was absolutely no illegality in the services as the private motorcycle owners had to first get registered with the app and then offer their pillion seats whenever they travel from one place to another.

However, countering the submissions, senior counsel AR.L. Sundaresan, representing the cab driver, said absence of a specific legal prohibition against sharing the pillion seat of private motorcycles with others could not be construed to mean such services can be offered without there being any regulation in place.

Drawing an analogy with private school buses, he asked whether those buses could be used as stage carriages for transporting other passengers just because they happen to be free during school hours. After hearing them at length, the judges adjourned the case to Thursday for the A-G’s appearance.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 7:50:06 AM |

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