Why App-Based Taxi Services Need More Regulations to Abide By

 taxi aggregator

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_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.

Surge Pricing

taxi fare

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

privacy

Uber’s infamous “God View”—tracking capabilities using which its employees can see details of customers’ rides and destinations—was in the news last year when an Uber executive was exposed using the feature to track the activities of a New York-based reporter. Sure, Uber was quick to cover up the patch by publishing a version of its privacy policy that forbade the access of passengers’ data, but that doesn’t change the fact that the company holds the personal information of commuters and the chances of its misuse are high.

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.