To say Ola Cabs has made travelling convenient would be an understatement. Wherever we need to go and whatever the time may be, all we have to do is pull out our phone, look for a cab in the app and book. Pretty soon, you've received a message saying, "Ola, we're early!". You check the app and your cab is still 15 minutes away.
You don't know it, but you might just have been robbed.
The reason you received that message is because the cab driver has tapped a button to indicate he has arrived at the pick-up point, when in fact he is nowhere close. You may shrug it off, but once he does that, your clock has started ticking. Apart from the per-kilometer rate Ola charges, the service also levies a waiting charge. That's about Rs.2 per minute. Think about it.
The time that the cab is taking to get to you, those 15 minutes of transit, are costing you.
But 5 of those minutes are free, you say. But those 5 minutes are yours to get to the cab, not the other way around. Even so, let's take off those 5 minutes. That works out to Rs.20 that you've lost. Not a big deal you say.
Let's put it this way. That's for a single driver for a single trip. Let's say a driver makes about 10 trips on a normal day. And of all the drivers plying Delhi's roads, let's say half of them are in on the scam. So that's 5000 drivers.
Rs.20 X 10 Trips X 5000 drivers. That amounts to an incredible 10 lakhs!
That's how much money is apparently stolen from Ola's customers on a daily basis.
Apparently this is the way it works. Someone at the Ola office will approach new drivers of questionable integrity. After harping on about the inconvenience drivers face with bookings that require a long drive to a pick-up point, the cab drivers are told that they can make an easy Rs.5000 extra, just by pressing the "Arrived" button earlier than they should.
"If a customer calls Customer Service to complain, they are told the matter will be dealt with, while the drive is actually protected from repercussions. If a customer gets upset enough to cancel, they will be billed for a cancellation after arrival. In return for this protection, driver has to pay the "representative" an amount of about Rs. 500-1000," complained a regular customer, Anindo Ghosh .
Anindo added, "The drivers are also told how to handle calls from irritated customers. Tactics include, engaging the customer in long drawn out conversations while they drive or saying they hit the button by accident. They're even told to explain that they're new and they don't know how to operate the Ola device."
When his FB post exposing the scam went viral, he received a call from Ola addressing the issue.
Ola claimed to be updating their software to ensure that a driver does not press "Client located" until they are within a few dozen meters of the pick-up location. Also, if a driver presses "Client located" while the vehicle is still moving, this will not be accepted by the system - so the cab needs to be at a standstill to "arrive".
The cab service representative added that they will pull up analytics of distance between where "Client located" i.e. "arrived at pick-up" was pressed, versus actual pick-up location, to identify which of their 160,000 drivers have been using this trick regularly, as opposed to genuine one-off mistakes by drivers.
While Anindo said, "I was provided some other insights too, giving me a strong sense that they are in the process of tracking down the culprits behind this scam," we know that we will think twice before booking an Ola cab.