Author : Ramanath Jha

Issue BriefsPublished on Aug 14, 2023 PDF Download
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The Bike-Taxi Alternative to Enhancing Urban Mobility in India

Despite concerted efforts to improve urban public transport, the use of personal vehicles has increased across India. City administrations must consider promoting the use of paratransit vehicles, such as bike-taxis, that can provide ridership to more commuters than a private vehicle. While bike-taxis are prevalent in some Indian cities, their use is curtailed elsewhere in the country by state policy and statutes. Amid growing city congestion, bike-taxis are a convenient and affordable transit option that must be encouraged through a regulatory regime that builds in safety and prevents misuse.


Ramanath Jha, “The Bike-Taxi Alternative to Enhancing Urban Mobility in India,” ORF Issue Brief No. 550, June 2022, Observer Research Foundation.


In the context of urban transport, India placed greater emphasis on moving vehicles than on moving people until the beginning of the 21st century, resulting in an extensive neglect of the public transport sector. For instance, the share of buses in the country’s total motor vehicle fleet was 11 percent in 1951 but fell to a mere 1.1 percent in 2001,[1] and the Kolkata Metro was the only urban metro service in India until December 2002 when the Delhi Metro began operations.[2] In 2014, the Indian government formulated the National Urban Transport Policy,[3] which prioritised mass public transport at both the central and state level, leading to the creation of more metro and bus rapid transit systems, and the expansion of bus fleets. Thirty-four metro rail projects (at a cumulative length of 1230 km) were under implementation across the country at the end of 2021,[4] and a combined 754-km of metro network was operational as of March 2022.[5] For smaller metropolitan cities, ‘metrolite’[a] systems are being implemented[6] as per the 2017 Metro Rail Policy.[7] Additionally, about a dozen cities have bus rapid transit systems,[8] with 35,000 operational buses, 80 percent of which are concentrated in eight cities alone.[9]

However, despite the attempt to boost and improve public transport, very few cities and towns in India[10] have adequate public transport—of the 450 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, only 10 have suburban or metro rail service and about 65 cities have some form of formal bus transport.[11] At the same time, the sale of private vehicles has grown steadily. Across India, the number of operational vehicles increased from 141.8 million in 2011 to 295.7 million in 2019.[12] In 2010, 1.9 million cars were sold in the country, and India became one of the fastest-growing markets for cars globally, second only to China.[13] In 2021, despite the pandemic challenge, car companies sent 3.82 million units to dealerships.[14] Similarly, in 2019, 21 million units of two-wheelers were sold in the country, nearly double the 11.77 million units sold in 2011.[15] This growth is perhaps attributable to the fall in prices of cars and two-wheelers, rise in family incomes, easy availability of loans, and absence of strict laws restricting car ownership in cities. Additionally, a 2021 survey indicated a shift towards personal vehicles due to the fear of using public transport arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.[16],[17]

As urban spaces and private vehicle use grow across the country, it is prudent to consider alternative motorised modes of transport to ease congestion, such as intermediate public transport (or paratransit). Paratransit is a transportation service—such as taxis, autorickshaws, and bike-taxis—that supplements mass public transit systems by providing individualised rides without fixed routes or timetables.[18] Urban activities are often spatially dispersed, and accessing these through mass public transit is time-consuming. As such, paratransit options can cater to work and leisure trips, or occasional (such as to airports and railway stations) and emergency trips, meeting first and last-mile connectivity needs[b],[19] as well as point-to-end trips.[20] As relatively cheap modes of transport, paratransit options can make transportation more affordable and accessible for all. They are often available in ride-sharing forms and via mobile-based ride-hailing apps, enhancing their accessibility.[21]

Among the several available paratransit alternatives in India, bike-taxis—motorbikes that operate as taxis—must be popularised for use. Although some Indian states have allowed bike-taxis to operate, many others are still considering the option, particularly because of the lack of clarity in the regulations regarding mobility as a service.[c] This brief assesses the bike-taxi scenario in India and makes the case for enhanced bike-taxi usage to address urban mobility needs.

Bike-Taxis: The Indian Context

Various countries around the world have permitted the use of motorbikes as taxis. Bike-taxis are particularly popular in Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Colombia,[22] and Brazil. Indeed, most Brazilian cities have bike-taxi services,[23] although they are unregulated in smaller towns and are under similar regulations as taxicabs in the larger cities.[24]

Bike-taxis are widely prevalent in many Southeast Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Vietnam,[25] particularly on account of the associated low costs and quick travel time.[26] In Indonesia, bike-taxis (locally known as ojek) are popular as they save both time and money amid the massive traffic congestion in the cities.[27] The entry of aggregators such as Gojek has helped formalise Indonesia’s bike-taxi sector.[28] Thailand, meanwhile, has had a functioning bike-taxi sector for many years, and regulations[d] were introduced in 2005.[29],[30]

Similarly, bike-taxis are also popular and widely used across Africa, in Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.[31]

As of end 2018, about 13 states and union territories in India had permitted bike-taxis to operate.[e],[32]

Regulatory landscape

The legal position on bike-taxis in India is slightly complex. As per the Constitution, road transport falls under the Concurrent List,[33] thereby allowing both the Centre and state governments to frame and enforce rules and regulations on transport. The 1988 Motor Vehicles Act defines a ‘contract carriage’[34] as a motor vehicle that carries a passenger or passengers for hire or reward and is engaged under contract. The contract is entered into with a person who holds a permit, and the journey is performed from one point to another without stopping to pick up or drop off a passenger between those two points. Contract carriages include maxicabs (a motor vehicle that carries more than six but no more than 12 passengers, excluding the driver, for hire or reward[35]) and motorcabs (a motor vehicle that carries a maximum of six passengers, excluding the driver, for hire or reward[36]).[37] Notably, as per the Act, a motor vehicle cannot have less than four wheels.[38] As such, a two-wheeled motorbike does not fit the definition of a motor vehicle and, therefore, cannot operate as a contract carriage.

Nevertheless, government departments have long been considering the legalities of allowing bike-taxis to operate. In 2004, the Indian government allowed motorbikes to be used as transport vehicles and their registration as such, thereby permitting motorbikes to carry one pillion passenger on hire.[39] In 2016, a committee instated by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways concluded that state transport departments could allow two-wheeler taxi permits, similar to those issued for city taxis.[40] The committee noted that allowing bike-taxis to operate would offer an economical and convenient last-mile connectivity solution to commuters and aid the economy as it would facilitate the utilisation of idle assets. The committee also presented bike-sharing guidelines, and a 2018 NITI Aayog report included several models on implementing bike-sharing transit services.[41]

In the light of these recommendations, and despite India not having a central legislation on bike-taxis, individual states can decide on allowing such transit services to operate. To be sure, while replying to a question on the legality of bike-taxis in parliament in December 2018, the Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways confirmed that states may issue permits for bike-taxis under sections 72 and 73 of the Motor Vehicles Act, and that the government was in favour of shared mobility, which will help reduce the congestion in cities and ease traffic jams.[42]

Operational scenario

In 1981, Goa became the first state to permit bikes to operate as commercial vehicles and notified 64 motorcycle taxi stands across the state.[f],[43] In 2016, Mizoram became the second state in India to allow bike-taxis to operate, stipulating that only bikes that were less than two years old and had a speed capability of 125cc or more would be eligible for permits. It also mandated that drivers wear a yellow helmet with the word ‘taxi’ written in red on the front and that the bike have a yellow registration plate.[44]

In 2016, West Bengal permitted bike-taxis to operate[45] as commercial vehicles after considering public suggestions and the central government’s recommendations.[46] Bike-taxis can be registered as contract carriages in the state, provided the pillion rider is given a helmet and has minimal baggage during the travel. Operational limits in terms of distance and area have also been prescribed.[47] Similarly, based on the central government’s recommendation, the government of Haryana has permitted the operation of bike taxis.[48]

Karnataka banned the use of bikes-taxis in 2016 due to several instances of guidelines being violated,[g] and aggregators were asked to approach the Road Transport Authority of India to obtain permission to operate a bike-taxi. In July 2021, Karnataka permitted electric bike-taxis to operate in the state,[49] with the aim of providing affordable first- and last-mile connectivity, promoting urban mobility, and assisting commuters to access public transport.[50] The state government projected that greater flexible entrepreneurship opportunities will be generated. These factors led to the introduction of the Karnataka Electric Bike Taxi Scheme, 2021.[51] As per the scheme, e-bike-taxi operations are restricted to agents and entities exclusively engaged in the business of providing e-bikes to passengers to hire for a journey; and individuals providing their own e-bikes to passengers to hire for a journey. [52] Notably, the scheme is applicable only to e-bikes and not to non-electric two-wheeler vehicles. It also stipulates a distance limit of 10 kms, prohibits the hiring of bikes by those under the age of 15, and prescribes the use of helmets and reflective jackets by the driver and passenger.[53] Furthermore, the scheme requires that the name and details of the service provider be affixed on the exterior of the e-bike, and any aggregator operating more than 50 bike-taxis must mandatorily adopt GPS tracking of the vehicle.[54] The scheme is in line with the Karnataka government’s objective to encourage the manufacture of e-vehicles in the state.[55] Indeed, the scheme clearly states that one of its aims is to reduce pollution in cities and promote environment-friendly transport solutions.[56]

In early 2022, Maharashtra’s transport commissioner said that the state is considering granting permission to bike-taxi services, but will first conduct a study to assess the vehicular density of cities in the state and the feasibility of the service.[57] However, for now, bike-taxi operations in Maharashtra are prohibited and violations are punishable.[58] For instance, in February 2022, Pune city officials seized 250 two-wheelers that were operating as a bike-taxi service.[59]

While considering permitting bike-taxis, states must also contend with potential opposition from taxi and autorickshaw unions. In Maharashtra and Karnataka, for instance, taxi and autorickshaw unions have been protesting developments to allow bike-taxis to run as commercial transport vehicles as this will certainly impact their services.[60] Nevertheless, commuters in Karnataka[61] and Maharashtra[62] appear in favour of bike-taxis since it is a more affordable and convenient mode of transportation and aids in job creation.

The Case for Bike-Taxis

The public acceptance of bike-taxis in many states are one of the several reasons why state governments must permit such paratransit services. As urbanisation intensifies, vehicle density in cities is certain to rise further, generating more traffic, congestion, and air pollution. In such a scenario, four-wheelers will struggle to operate, especially if travel time is of concern. The need for a smaller, faster, cheaper, and more convenient mode of transportation is best served by two-wheelers. The ability to navigate busy traffic and the low cost in comparison to cars have made two-wheelers a dominant feature of the Indian urban mobility landscape, such that they comprised 79 percent of all vehicles sold in the country in 2018.[63] The success of the cab aggregator business model and the high demand for two-wheelers has improved the prospects for bike-taxis in the country.[64] Additionally, India’s bike-taxi industry has the potential to generate over two million livelihood opportunities and about US$5 billion in revenue.[65] Indeed, the advantages arising from permitting bike-taxis to operate can be summarised in the following points:

  • Providing first- and last-mile connectivity
  • Generating livelihood opportunities
  • Assisting the local economy
  • Providing greater affordability to commuters
  • Providing greater convenience to commuters through quick availability
  • Saving time by better ability to navigate traffic congestion
  • Helping commuters reach areas inaccessible by four-wheelers
  • Easing traffic woes in cities
  • Improving linkage with public transit systems
  • Ability to ply on difficult terrain
  • Ability to integrate with app-based platforms
  • Providing demand responsive and real-time services

India is a ripe market for micromobility, transportation over short distances provided by lightweight, usually single-person vehicles such as bicycles and scooters.[66] Most of India’s smaller cities and towns have very limited or no public transport, and where available, these are mostly unviable for shorter journeys. Moreover, first- and last-mile connectivity provisions are generally weak. Micromobility options like bike-taxis can fill this gap.

Indeed, bike-taxis already have a sizeable presence in the states where they are allowed to operate, and aggregators have played a crucial role in their uptake. For instance, Ola Bike, which first began operations in Gurgaon, Faridabad, and Jaipur in 2016, is now available in 200 cities and towns, and assesses that the real potential for bike-taxis is in India’s smaller towns and cities, where people are experiencing on-demand transportation for the first time.[67] Similarly, Uber operates bike-taxi services in 30 cities,[68] with plans to expand to 200 others.[69] Rapido, functioning exclusively in the two-wheeler rental space, has its bike taxi services in 100 cities in India.[70]

Needed regulation

As bike-taxis become more prevalent, governments must introduce regulations on the aspects of safety and emissions. The safety related rules can include: a vehicle fitness certificate for the bike; prescribed speed limits; a minimum age for the driver; service providers must have insurance coverage, both for accident and death, for the driver and the passenger; drivers should be given mandatory safety training by the service provider; carrying of a first-aid kit and helmets for the passengers; provision of mandatory GPS tracking; emergency response numbers; and maximum number of hours a driver should operate. Additionally, as working women have shown a greater inclination to use bike-taxis,[71] certain rules must be adopted to ensure their safety, such as conducting a thorough background check of the drivers, employing more women drivers, GPS tracking, and SOS services.

Bike-taxis will need to be climate-friendly and mandated to adhere to emission standards. All non-electric bike-taxis will have to be phased out gradually and replaced by e-bike-taxis. Bike-taxis will also need to be integrated with public transport through route rationalization.[h] Additionally, traffic regulation must be an area of focus while permitting bike-taxis. Differentiated and higher penal provisions for traffic rule violations by bike-taxis should be considered.


As India’s cities grow and congestion increases, it is imperative to adopt modes of travel other than private transport. The expansion of public transport services is already underway in several major cities to cater to the rising mobility needs, and these are being made available at reasonable rates. Paratransit vehicles such as bike-taxis can be considered as an additional transport alternative, given their utility in terms of time and cost for certain kinds of travel. Crucially, bike-taxis will provide a positive impetus to the urban economy and generate much-needed employment opportunities.

There is no doubt that commuters will benefit from the addition of bike-taxis to their choices of transport, even as their deployment may face opposition from other transport unions, such as those of taxis and autorickshaws. Greater competition could improve the quality of travel experience for commuters. Given that the central government has encouraged the use of this paratransit service, it is imperative that states enact the necessary rules to govern the operation of bike-taxis, striking a balance between safety, emissions, and commuter convenience.


[a] Metrolite denotes a light rail transit system designed for cities with low ridership at costs lower than the metro.

[b] First- and last-mile connectivity denotes the beginning or end of a trip made by using public transportation.

[c] Mobility as a service is the integration of multiple types of transport services into a single mobility service that is accessible on demand through a joint digital channel. Public and private transportation services are combined through a unified gateway that creates and manages trips for each customer who can pay via a single account.

[d] They provide, inter alia, rules for setting fare rates, license plate (yellow plate with a black front), drivers wearing specified jackets and safety equipment such as a helmet for passengers and penalties for traffic violations.

[e] These are Goa, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chandigarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Meghalaya.

[f] Currently, 70 more stands are pending notification.

[g] Karnataka had barred Ola for six months for running bike-taxis illegally. The state also seized 62 two-wheeler taxis that were put into operation by Uber as this was in violation of the Motor Vehicles Act. They were operating under white number plates meant solely for private vehicles and not permissible for commercial vehicles.

[h] Route rationalisation is the process of designing routes and service levels of a transportation system that will bring in the best efficiency in service delivery based on a study of components such as supply and demand, frequency, boarding and alighting, and load factor.

[1] Motor Transport Statistics of India, 2001-2002, Ministry of Shipping, Road, Transport & Highways, Government of India

[2] Metro Rail Projects in India, Urban Transport News, February 8, 2022,

[3] National Urban Transport Policy, 2014, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India,

[4] Future of Metro Rail in India, Metro Rail News, December 29, 2021,

[5] List of Metro Rail Projects in India – Quick Snapshot, Metro Rail Network, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India, Unstarred Question No. 2551, Lok Sabha, March 17, 2022,

[6] The Metro Rail Guy, February 2, 2021,

[7] Metro Rail Policy 2017, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India,

[8] Ramanath Jha, “Have Indian cities bid farewell to the Bus Rapid Transit System?,” Observer Research Foundation, November 3, 2020,

[9] Pawan Mulukutlaan and Priyanka Vasudevan, “Increasing Mode Share of Bus Transport in Indian Cities”, WRI India, January 15, 2015,

[10] Jha, “Have Indian cities bid farewell to the Bus Rapid Transit System?”

[11] Regulatory and Financial frameworks for shared mobility in India”, International Association of Public Transport, September 2020.

[12] “Number of vehicles in operation across India from financial year 1951 to 2019”, Statista,

[13] India emerges as world’s No. 2 in car sales in 2010”, Hindustan Times, January 12, 2011.

[14] Pankaj Doval, “Beating all bumps, car sales grow 27 % in 2021”, The Times of India, January 2, 2022,

[15] Two-wheeler domestic sales in India from financial year 2011 to 2021”, Statista.

[16] Bhawna Singh, “Urban Indians intend to use personal vehicles more than the pre-pandemic times in the future”, YouGov, September 30, 2021,

[17] “Map of Top Ten Towns with Highest No. of Car Ownership”, Maps of India, March 15, 2016,

[18] Merriam-Webster, “Paratransit Definition & Meaning”,

[19] Farha Irani, ”A Proposed Roadmap to Enhance Last-mile Connectivity in India’s Metro Rail Transit Systems”,  Observer Research Foundation, April 19, 2022,

[20] National Urban Transport Policy, 2014, Para 9.8, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India

[21] Palak Thakur, Aakansha Jain and Aravind Harikumar, “Emerging role of bike (motorcycle) taxis in urban mobility”, The Energy and Research Institute, March 2, 2020,

[22] Leonardo Canon Rubiano, “How motorbike taxis are changing transport in Colombia”, World Economic Forum, June 25, 2015,

[23] “Uber expands ride-hailing services with motorbikes in Brazil”, LABS, May 20, 2021,

[24] Joao Alencar Oliviera Junior and Mario Angelo Nunes de Azevedo Filho,” The Brazilian Motorcycle Taxi Phenomenon”, International Conference on Traffic and Transportation Studies, July 2002,

25 “Emerging role of bike (motorcycle) taxis in urban mobility”

[26] “How to travel in Cambodia”, Aas-in-asia, December 4, 2021,

[27] Enrico Punsalang, “Indonesian Motorcycle Industry Sees 40-Percent Decline”, RideApart, January 2, 2021,

[28] Raymond Zhong, “Go-Jek, the front line in Indonesia’s motorbike ridesharing war”, Financial Review, December 11, 2017,

[29] Samvad Partners, “Bike Taxis: The problem that must be solved”, Axfait, August 19, 2021,

30 Ryosuke Oshima et al, “Study On Regulation Of Motorcycle Taxi Service in Bangkok”, Journal of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Vol. 7, 2007,

[31] “Emerging role of bike (motorcycle) taxis in urban mobility”

[32] Aishwarya Raman, “The Power of Two Wheels: India’s New Shared Mobility Frontier”, Ola Mobility Institute, 2020,

[33] Constitution of India, Seventh Schedule, List III-Concurrent List

[34] The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Section 2 (sub-section 7),

[35] The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Section 2, (sub-section 22)

[36] The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Section 2, (sub-section 25)

[37] The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Section 2, sub-section 7 b (i) & (ii)

[38] The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Section 2, (sub-section 28)

[39] Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India, Notifications Under The Motor Vehicles Act Under Section 41 (4)”, November 5, 2004,

[40] “Report of the Committee Constituted to propose Taxi Policy Guideline to promote Urban Mobility”, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India, December 2016,

[41] NITI Aayog, Rocky Mountain Institute and Observer Research Foundation, “Moving Forward Together: Enabling Shared Mobility in India”, September 2018,

[42] “Taxi permits to two-wheelers by states legal: Govt”, Times of India, December 13, 2018,

[43] Krish Fernandes, “Motorcycle pilots: Riders in a storm?”, Times of India, February 21, 2013,

[44] “All you need to know about Mizoram’s two-wheeler taxi service”, The NorthEast Today, November 19, 2018,

[45] “The Power of Two Wheels: India’s New Shared Mobility Frontier”

[46] “Bike Taxis: The problem that must be solved”

[47] “Bike Taxis: The problem that must be solved”

[48] “Bike Taxis: The problem that must be solved”

[49] Kaavya Chandrashekaran, “Karnataka permits electric bike taxis to operate in the state”, Economic Times, July 14, 2021,

[50] Government of Karnataka, Notification No. TD 160 TDO 2020 dated 14 July 2021,

[51] Government of Karnataka, Notification No. TD 160 TDO 2020 dated 14 July 2021

[52] Government of Karnataka, Notification No. TD 160 TDO 2020 dated 14 July 2021

[53] Government of Karnataka, Notification No. TD 160 TDO 2020 dated 14 July 2021

[54] “Bike Taxis: The problem that must be solved”

[55] “Bike Taxis: The problem that must be solved”

[56] “Bike Taxis: The problem that must be solved”

[57] Joy Sengupta, “Plans to authorize bike taxi service in Maharashtra”, Times of India, February 9, 2022,

[58] “Plans to authorize bike taxi service in Maharashtra”

[59] Dheeraj Bengrut, “Pune RTO officials seize 250 illegal bike taxis”, Hindustan Times, February 10, 2022,

[60] “Plans to authorize bike taxi service in Maharashtra”

[61] “Bengalureans want bike taxis back on roads”, The Observer, February 22, 2022,

[62] Aayush Pandey, Anushka Vani, “Bike taxis illegal; ‘must be boycotted’ says RTO”, Indie Journal, February 14, 2022,

[63] Varun Shridhar, “Micro-mobility devices: what could they mean for India?” Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), February 22, 2019,

[64] “Micro-mobility devices: what could they mean for India?” 9

[65] “The Power of Two Wheels: India’s New Shared Mobility Frontier”

[66] Merriam-Webster, “Micromobility”,

[67] Kopal Cheema, “How India Became The World’s Capital For Bike Taxis, Scooter Rentals?”, Inc42, December 11, 2019,

[68] “How India Became The World’s Capital For Bike Taxis, Scooter Rentals?”

[69] “How India Became The World’s Capital For Bike Taxis, Scooter Rentals?”

[70] “How India Became The World’s Capital For Bike Taxis, Scooter Rentals?”

[71] D Shreya Veronica, “Working women prefer bike taxi”, Hans India, February 28, 2019.

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Ramanath Jha

Ramanath Jha

Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...

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