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Indian government accuses Uber of jacking up prices for loyal customers

Six ride sharing companies forced into consumer redress scheme

India has accused ride-sharing companies of over-charging loyal customers who regularly take the same route, and directed six platforms to become part of a scheme that offers third-party grievance handling services.

The directive to join the scheme was issued during a meeting with officials of India's Department of Consumer Affairs, attended by Ola, Uber, Rapido, Meru Cabs and Jugnoo. The platforms were advised to improve responses to customer concerns and rights and directed to become "convergence partners" in India's National Consumer Helpline. Such partners are required to accept and resolve consumer grievances reported to the Helpline.

The Department said ride-sharing companies need to sign up for the helpline for reasons including that their algorithms set fares in ways that are not easy to understand – sometimes even charging loyal customers higher rates than first-timers on the same route.

The Department is also concerned that ride-sharing platforms do not offer proper responses from customer support, pre-select costly add-ons that appear on customer bills without consent, and have not acted to prevent drivers rejecting online payment and insisting on cash.

Drivers also stand accused of refusing to run air conditioning even when it was promised as a premium service. Other drivers force riders to cancel rides the drivers don't want to take, which means stymied customers cop cancellation fees.

As for cancellation charges, the companies were accused of having opaque practices on the deadline users must observe to cancel a ride without charges and the sums demanded.

And when someone does want to address associated complaints, the apps have a reputation for slow resolution with zero-touch service, which makes it all-but-impossible to actually connect to customer support personnel. The Department also lamented that written replies to complainants are often provided in canned formats.

Some users have turned to good old Twitter to get responses.

This isn't the first time India's cab aggregators have been accused of naughtiness.

In 2018, an independent lawyer alleged that the ride-hailing platforms Ola and Uber used their algorithms to facilitate price fixing between drivers. The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) ultimately dismissed an appeal to investigate the platforms.

In January, the Delhi government issued a policy draft of guidelines for cab platforms that included requiring operation licenses, government registration of drivers, customer care centers and transparency on fees. Policies could cap surge prices at twice the base fare set by the government. ®

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