The right to refuse fares, a trait app cabs have picked up from kaali-peelis, auto drivers

Mumbai: For the longest time, commuters were at the mercy of the black-and-yellow cabs and autorickshaw drivers. The arrival of app-based cab aggregators held out the promise of no fare refusals and smoother rides. However, almost a decade later, the 'dream' ride has soured. Commuters who had joyfully transitioned to app cabs are now complaining of precisely the same trouble -- being refused rides.

Increasingly, there are complaints on social media as well as the redressal platforms of these app-based cabs about a commuter booking a ride and the driver cancellling after asking about the destination or mode of payment. When a commuter cancels a ride, they have to pay Rs 50 or more in cancellation fees. Why is the driver who cancels the ride not similarly penalised, ask irate commuters on social media. A source close to a cab aggregator company says, if the driver cancels the ride from his side, after a certain number of such cancellations, their access to the app platform is revoked.

Recently, 25-year-old Toral Thakkar, who works for a matrimonial website, was running late, so she booked a cab ride from Thakur Village to Mahalaxmi. Usually, the customer calls the driver to ascertain their location and estimated time of arrival but this time, Thakkar received a call from the driver. As she was waiting for her ride to arrive, the driver called her. "He asked me what my destination was and I told him, Mahalaxmi. After a brief pause, he asked me to cancel the ride. I pleaded with him to drop me to work but he refused outright and disconnected the call. Even before I could log on to the application, my ride was cancelled," said Toral.

Cab aggregators receive a number of such complaints, a factor which is taken into consideration when the driver is evaluated. The driver's ratings are crucial because it helps them obtain longer rides, which translates to bigger earnings. Customer complaints are addressed on social media and through a personal redressal platform, said a source.

The Free Press Journal tried to reach leading cab aggregators like Ola, Uber and Meru, but was unable to get a reply. A source close to a cab aggregator said, if the driver cancels rides more than a stipulated number of times, his access to the platform is revoked and it affects his ratings as well. Moreover, the cab aggregator company will initiate an internal probe against the driver."

Jyoti Das, a professional photographer, who manages work on several locations, usually prefers cab aggregators, but after three drivers cancelled her ride for unknown reasons on three different occasions, she was disgruntled. "I ended up being late for a wedding shoot, which meant I lost prime lighting in the day. I had to re-shoot the entire assignment."

A driver with another cab aggregator told this paper, requesting confidentiality, one of the main reasons drivers cancel rides is their unwillingness to ply short distances. The driver said, "Short distances mean we hardly earn anything and we consider it a waste of our time. Moreover, when a passenger is going to pay by card or electronically wire the fare, we have to wait to get our money from the9 company."

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