Drivers owning their own taxis and allowing themselves to be part of the aggregators Ola and Uber app-based taxi hailing model are up in arms against the aggregators largely in Mumbai starting Monday.
Their anger is justified and could well find resonance among fellow drivers similarly placed in other cities of India. Already drivers in the same boat (or in the same hot seat?) in Pune, Hyderabad etc have given hints of joining their Mumbai brethren.
What has raised the hackles of the drivers? Well, it is a trade practice that is just plain discriminatory. The two aggregators it is believed charge a uniform and hefty 26 percent service charges from the drivers for bagging customers through their taxi hailing apps but give first preference to taxis owned by the aggregators themselves under their financing schemes as opposed to taxis owned by the drivers themselves or by others. Since their business model is entirely driven by technology, it is easy for them to tweak their software to accomplish this discrimination.
Ola and Uber obviously contend that what they are doing is kosher. What is wrong if you reward those who give you greater business opportunities, they wonder with injured innocence. The answer is if you wanted to ride piggyback on the taxi hailing business to push your loan program, you should either shut the doors for drivers not interested in your loan or charge them a lesser fee vis-à-vis the loan-seekers. Indeed the second option too could hit legal challenge because the loan seekers are already paying interest on loan and should not be subjected to a discriminatory heightened service fee at the time of providing taxi services. Be that as it may.
Microsoft Corporation of the US has had several run in with the European Commission. To wit, its practice of insisting on use of its internet browser as a precondition for using its other software was struck down as blatantly discriminatory and anti-competition. And it is by now almost universal that broadband service providers cannot discriminate between business and household users as well between high data and low data users as indeed on any other touchstone at all. Net neutrality has now become the near universal norm.
The taxi aggregators obviously make more money if they also lend for acquiring the taxis. The car manufacturers too get large orders thanks to the advent of aggregators presence in the lending business. But it is the hapless own-drivers, so to speak, who are hurt by the ongoing discriminatory practice. And the commuting public too would be hurt if a large number of taxis come to a screeching halt because app-based taxi hailing has brought immense relief to them in the form of transparent billing and door-to-door traveling convenience.
The aggregators expect the world out of their drivers of both the varieties like logging in at the appointed time and logging out only at the appointed time and in the meanwhile making themselves available to customers at the pain of earning penalty on refusal. They are also expected to give the same courteous service to passengers whether they pay cash or for example pay through Ola money a digital payment platform. Against this backdrop, it is cruel to starve them of business only because they didn’t take loan from you.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI), fair-business practice watchdog, should intervene suo motu and order investigation by its investigative wing the DG of Investigations. And in the meanwhile it should stop the aggregators in their tracks. By doing this it would be intervening decisively for both the drivers at the receiving end of the discrimination as well as for the public many of whom have jettisoned their own cars or plans of owning their own cars thanks to the convenience of hailing taxis wherever they are.
(The writer is a senior columnist. He tweets @smurlidharan)
Updated Date: Mar 19, 2018 13:15 PM