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Who is regulating the ride-sharing services?

  • Published at 06:04 pm April 7th, 2019
Ride sharing app

And what is the cost of not doing so?

Through the introduction of ride-sharing services (RSS) in Bangladesh, our transportation system has undergone a minor revolution of sorts. The popularity of RSS has long crossed that of the CNGs/auto rickshaws. They can also be hailed for addressing the unemployment problem of the youth of Bangladesh.

The effect of these services can even be witnessed by those who do not use them when the presence of an unprecedented number of motorbikes are seen in the streets of the capital.

I, along with many of my friends and family, are heavily dependent on RSS and have more than one of their apps installed on our smartphones. Even frequent accidents have failed to demotivate users of these services. With their growing popularity, one question arises: How are these services being regulated?

Primarily, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) is authorized to deal with the licensing and regulating of RSS since all of them are reliant on motor vehicles. According to section 51 of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983, no motor vehicles can be used for any purpose other than for which it has a permit from the competent authority, which, in this case, is the BRTA.

So, since the cars and motorbikes used in RSS are all licensed for personal use, ideally, they cannot be used for direct commercial gain as they are being now. But little attention is being paid to this provision as not even one of the ride-sharing companies has enlistment certificates from the BRTA, yet they are carrying out their businesses in full swing.

This article in no way discourages the above-mentioned ride-sharing businesses. Quite the contrary, I laud them for the positive impact they have had on both the economy and the transportation sector, but it must be made subject to tougher and more effective regulation for making its use safer and the business more sustainable.

News about accidents while sharing rides using these services due to the inexperience or negligence of the drivers and complaints regarding their misconduct are becoming far too common. In this regard, the BRTA published a commendable guideline in an official gazette published on February 28, 2018. While stating the significance of RSS, the guideline provides certain restrictions on both the riders and the companies. 

For example, there have been countless complaints regarding inexperienced drivers who are more exposed to the probability of being in accidents and not only cause harm to themselves but also to the riders as well. In this regard, the guideline requires the passing of one year after the registration of the vehicle, which will reduce the number of amateur drivers in RSS.

The guideline further requires the cars and drivers engaged in RSS to be registered. When implemented, users will be able to file complaints regarding the services directly to the BRTA, which would work in favour of regulating these services. 

The guideline also creates a necessity of incorporating an SOS button in ride-sharing apps. According to  the guideline, measures have to be taken to install a system through which the police can view any ride at any time, if necessary. Implementing these provisions will inter alia make the experience of the customers using these services a lot safer.

But the problem the BRTA is having with this guideline is that, as of now, it cannot be enforced.

The problem with guidelines in general is that they cannot provide for sanctions since they are promulgated by the government, not made by the legislative body. Violation of the guideline will only lead to suspension or cancellation of the enlistment certificate given by the BRTA. Even though Austinian jurists often claim that nullity is one form of sanction, this argument is not applicable here since none of the RSS has obtained enlistment certificates from the BRTA.

So, the RSS remain completely unregulated.

It can be said that almost every school of jurisprudence agrees that laws should be in sync with the demands of the time. Introduction of the above-mentioned services has added a new dimension to the transportation system of the two major cities in Bangladesh.

It is undeniable that numerous vehicles participating in RSS have somewhat disturbed the equilibrium of the roads and our transportation system. It is expected of a capable legislative body to enact statutes which are suitable to the time’s demand. Additionally, it is expected of a competent government to take required steps to bring RSS within the scope of the guideline. 

Nafiz Ahmed is an apprentice lawyer.

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