The warning issued by the Union Consumer Affairs Department to app-based taxi aggregators like Ola and Uber has not come a day too soon. The first honeymoon of clean, air-conditioned taxis with polite drivers is over. What we have instead are consumers harassed by the inexplicable cancellation of taxi rides, and a range of additional charges ranging from insurance and Covid levies, to hefty cancellation fees if they are initiated by the passenger. In a recent meeting with representatives from Uber, Ola, Rapido, Meru Cabs and Jugnoo, Department of Consumer Affairs officials told taxi aggregators candidly that while the growing number of consumer complaints was not dealt with very quickly, strict measures would follow.
A few years ago, app-based taxi fleets were hailed as a revolution in transportation. Against the inefficient black and yellow taxis, it was door-to-door service with a smile. A milestone came when private car owners preferred to park their cars in a garage and instead used the new carpooling system to avoid the hassle of parking and the stress of driving. Anand Mahindra once warned that the demand for private passenger vehicles is dwindling thanks to the explosion of Olas and Ubers on the road. However, the trend now appears to have reversed, with consumers returning to passenger cars, unhappy with taxis that have deteriorated into smelly bangers.
It is therefore time to go beyond the warning to impose strict surveillance on the ground. The Ministry of Road Transport must ensure compliance with the guidelines for motor vehicle aggregators that it has drawn up. Aggregation companies take a 20% commission on all rides, and their role is to ensure minimum standards and price standards. However, there is little compliance. For example, aggregator guidelines have decreed that surge pricing cannot be more than 1.5 times the original price. This is systematically violated. Again, respect for the customer was emphasized without any attempt to train drivers in etiquette. Drivers and their app-based operators need to realize that if they’re not voluntarily offering cutting-edge services, it’s only a matter of time before they become has-beans.