App-based taxi aggregator services like Uber and Ola have exploded in popularity among urban, smartphone-wielding commuters in India. No wonder, for an average person, the ease of booking a taxi with a few taps or clicks is hard to beat but, lately, taxi aggregators have been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Following a barrage of incidents including a few where drivers of app-based taxi services were accused of molestation and indecent acts, these taxi operators have come under the government scanner.
In Kolkata, taxi-aggregators have been mandated to install a CCTV camera and an alarm button by 15th of this month to remain in business. We don’t yet know how technologically feasible the whole process is, but one thing is for sure—it could cause serious breach of privacy for passengers. While this move is aimed at regulating the app-based business, there still exists several loopholes in their operational model, which aren’t really in favour of commuters. Let’s discuss some of them.
No Taxi-Top Sign
Taxi aggregators like Ola and Uber don’t have the usual glow-sign on their roof that indicates it’s a taxi. Plus, many of them don’t bear the company logo (Ola does but Uber doesn’t) and use white-coloured cars, belonging to one of these brands—Swift Dzire, Tata Manza or Indica. So what? Well, a private car owner who owns the same brand of car in same colour may run into embarrassing situations when a stranger on the road stops his car thinking it’s the cab that he’s just booked. This is equally embarrassing and confusing for the passengers as well. Such identity crisis also makes taxi aggregators a less favourable medium for outdoor and taxi ad campaigns.
If you have no idea of what “surge pricing” is all about, here’s how Uber describes the term on its official website—”Uber rates increase to ensure reliability when demand cannot be met by the number of drivers on the road”. Simply put, as and when Uber experiences a spike in demand, it raises the prices—sometimes even four times the price—to encourage more drivers to come out, thus trying to balance out supply and demand. Ola also operates on a similar model.
Low rates are one of the biggest factors contributing to the popularity of taxi-aggregators, but “surge pricing” could be one way of boosting their revenue without increasing their base rates. This may help them create an impression that they are reasonably priced, even during times when they are not.
Invasions of Privacy
Flooding of the market with app-based on-demand taxi services may seem like the next best thing since the invention of wheel but, a close look reveals evident flaws in their operations. Clearly, there needs to be more (and better) regulations to moderate the safety and privacy of the passengers.