LAHORE - The Punjab and Sindh governments yesterday denied any ban on Uber, Careem and A-One, a day after the cab service was declared illegal by the transport departments of both the provinces.

“No notification was issued by the Punjab government to ban smart-phone transport service whereas it’s an inter-departmental correspondence,” said Punjab Information Technology Board Chairman Dr Umar Saif during a media briefing here yesterday.

The Sindh transport minister also negated any curb on taxi providers in Karachi. Both the governments announced that the discussions were on with stakeholders to bring the cab services into tax network.

The Punjab government’s provincial transport authority (PTA) on Monday declared that ride-hailing services, Uber and Careem and A-One, were operating outside regulatory bounds in Lahore. A notification was issued in this regard to the chief traffic officer and the chief executive officer of Lahore Transport Company. The notification had stated that the two companies had been offering transport services without getting private cars registered with any regulatory body. The notification had also stated that the utilisation of private cars by the cab providers for commercial purposes was a violation of the city’s local laws. It had been said that the failure of Uber and Careem to obtain required fitness certificates and route permits for their fleets had resulted in great loss to the government.

The PTA detained dozens of cabs in Lahore on Tuesday and imposed Rs 2,000 fine on each “illegal operator” after Monday’s notification. The Sindh government also moved against the cab providers following the move of the Punjab.

The ban, however, sparked a debate on social media with thousands condemning the governments’ decision. Careem Pakistan MD Junaid Iqbal, through a twitter and Facebook live talk, said the livelihood of thousands of people was directly linked to the service and any ban on it would badly affect the entire transport system. He cited examples of different countries where Careem was making a successful venture and providing jobs to thousands of people. He expressed his willingness to work with the government for the development of laws and removing procedural hindrances in the way of the operational services.

“We want to see what kind of laws we can devise to regulate the sharing economy,” Iqbal said. “We are ready to work with the government at all levels for this. We want to work with the Pakistan government and create 100,000 jobs by the end of 2018. For that you need private cars, taxis, rickshaws and motorcycles which can use our platform. We can create jobs and encourage entrepreneurship,” he said.

Iqbal noted countries around the world were devising new regulations to encourage the sharing economy, and that doing so had created jobs and encouraged entrepreneurship. “The world over, economies are moving away from physical marketplaces to digital marketplaces,” he said.

“Different countries are devising laws to accommodate these global changes, and we request Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa CM Pervaiz Khattak to accept this new technology, this new age and this new economy. It is in the interest of Pakistan to do so,” he said.

Uber stated it would continue to work with regulators and policymakers to ensure that Pakistanis have access to safe, affordable and efficient transportation option.

Dubai-based Careem directly made inroads into markets in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. San Francisco-based rival Uber began operations in Lahore in 2016.

It is being said that Careem alone operates around 5,000 cabs in Lahore with around 20,000 jobs in shape of drivers and other helping staff.

Dozens of cab drivers held a protest at Careem DHA office against the ban and demanded immediate removal of it.

The entire situation, however, took a magical turn on Tuesday evening when the government of both the provinces changed its mind and denied any curb on cabs.

Talking to journalists, Dr Saif said the Punjab chief minister had formed a committee comprising all the stakeholders to settle the issues and regulate this new system of transport. He said Egypt, Philippines and Malaysia had regulated this system and brought it under tax net.

Dr Saif said that putting room of a house on rent couldn’t be equal to formal hotel business and there was a need to devise a mechanism to regulate such practices.

“The App related transport system has extended comfortable and safe transport to the general public and helped in maintaining law and order as the use of such service secures the particulars of the passengers and the traffic hazard,” he said.

Dr Saif said new business models required new tax regimes as the government was heading towards knowledge-based economy where income was being generated and jobless persons were getting opportunities through this system. Till the deliberations of the committee, the implementation of any under-reference issue has been held and necessary legislation in this regard would be chalked out soon, he announced.

Staff Reporter from Karachi adds: Sindh Minister for Transport Nasir Husssain Shah has denied banning the private taxi companies facilitating the commuters in the metropolis.

While talking to the newsmen here on Tuesday, Shah said that the government was not in favour of banning these companies, which offered transportation to Karachiites at cheaper rates.

He clarified that only notices had been issued to them for fulfilling some legal requirements.

He further said that it was essential for these companies to fulfill the legal requirements such as route permit, fitness certificate and commercial registration of their vehicles in excise department.

The minister informed that both the private taxi companies did not even bother to reply when notices were issued to them couple of months ago.

He clarified that the government had no problem with these companies, but pointed out that it was necessary to fulfill the legal requirements. “In fact, we intend to facilitate these companies so that they could provide better transportation services to the commuters of Karachi,” Shah added.

It is worth mentioning here that Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Jamaat-e-Islami and other political parties have condemned Sindh government’s announcement with respect to these companies, saying that the cab services these companies provided had slashed the transportation costs, and that the government had failed to provide respectable and cheaper transportation system to the people of Karachi.