KOLKATA: Thousands of app-cab users are facing the heat — quite literally — as drivers are allegedly refusing to switch on the air-conditioner despite the onset of summer. Fares are still being calculated for an AC ride despite not getting the service.
The trend had started almost two years back during the pandemic when windows were rolled down to stop the spread of virus. But now, several drivers are telling the commuters straight away that it was impossible to run the AC after paying an increased commission to the aggregator and managing the constant fuel price hike. In what is being seen as a desperate measure, some app drivers are even putting up “No AC” signs to “avoid arguments”.
It seems as if every problem in the app-cab sector will finally be passed on to passengers; and passengers seem to have nowhere to go for redress. Switching off air-conditioners was a necessity when Covid was raging. Now, with Covid cases down to a trickle and the mercury reaching the mid-30s, switching on air-conditioners has become a necessity. Squeezing every rupee out of passengers is not the sign of a healthy industry.
Sampurna Majumdar was charged Rs 311 for a ride from Jadavpur to Shakuntala Park on Tuesday evening. “I had taken a taxi in the morning and it cost me Rs 230. I had to pay for the AC but did not get the service,” Majumdar complained. A complaint lodged with the operator through the app did not yield any result till Monday evening, she claimed.
Patuli resident Anirban Sengupta shared a similar experience. “On March 12, I had boarded a cab from Patuli to travel to Howrah. When I asked the driver to switch on the AC, he said he could not afford the AC expenses after paying 25% of his earnings to the aggregator. Earlier, he claimed, it was 15%,” Sengupta said.
“Individual drivers have stated that with Rs 28 fixed as the maximum fare for a km, they want a share of as much as Rs 24-25 per km to switch on the AC. We never support switching off the ACs. But both sides must sit together and solve the issues,” said Indranil Banerjee, general secretary of the West Bengal Online Cab Operators Guild.
Uber stated they have built-in mechanism where passengers can lodge complaints. “Uber expects drivers to keep the AC switched on during a ride. In case of the driver’s refusal, riders have the option to reach Uber via in-app chat messages and post-trip feedback. Continued non-compliance by drivers is taken seriously and may lead to actions against them,” stated a spokesperson.
An Ola representative did not respond to calls or messages despite several attempts. However, when Anuradha Pal, a pharma tech company executive lodged her complaint about a trip in which AC service was denied on Facebook, an email explained that Ola “did not charge extra for AC”. “Ola actively promotes the drivers to always switch on the AC while riding unless the customer refuses the AC to be turned on. Any negative feedback of this nature, downgrades the driver partner’s rating in Ola… However, we want to inform you that our rate card for cabs is calculated based on distance and time and we don’t levy any additional charge for A/C,” the email stated.
“We know drivers are facing some challenges. However, we urge all drivers to deliver the best possible customer service and switch on the AC during the trip,” said Md Manu, general secretary of Kolkata Ola Uber App Operators and Drivers’ Union.