CHENNAI: “Are you paying by Ola Money?” is likely the first question an Ola driver asks when a customer calls him or her after booking a cab nowadays. A customer responding positively to the question did not usually disappoint the driver.
The past few weeks, however, has seen signs of possibly changing the scenario dramatically in Chennai with a number of drivers flatly refusing rides that entail payment by Ola cash, despite the prospect of their customers negatively rating them.
‘Ola Money’ is a system that allows customers to make online, advance payments directly to the company, either through debit or credit cards. Payments are automatically deducted from the customer’s balance after each cab ride, effectively doing away with cash payments to drivers.
Ola’s commitment to drivers, on paper, is to ensure Ola Money is credited to the drivers’ accounts within two working days, or 48 hours, after the completion of the ride — a commitment that is regularly flouted, according to the drivers.
“We see frequent delays in the credit of Ola Money in our accounts. Sometimes as much as five days or more,” says R Madhan, one of several drivers who refuse ‘Ola money’ rides unless the journey is for long distance.
Almost every driver Express has spoken to alleges they avoid Ola money. This adversely affects both customers and drivers, with drivers saying they are hit harder.
“We cannot afford to have our money credited in a week’s time. We need what we earn in hand immediately for costs like fuel, or even for ready cash for any payment of traffic fines, which is a persistent danger while plying on Indian roads,” said Satish Kumar, another Ola driver.
To seek a resolution to the problem, some 50 drivers in a show of unity presented themselves at the Ola office in Chennai. However, they were told that no one in the Chennai office could resolve the problem and that their complaints will have to be taken up by the head office of the company.
“We had gone to ask them about several delayed Ola money payments. We also wanted to resolve problems we were facing with irate customers who were billed with ‘surge pricing’,” said yet another driver who wished to remain anonymous.
While the number of drivers surveyed is minuscule compared to the 35,000-odd drivers who are part of Ola in Chennai, the desire to present a unified front to redress grievances is reminiscent of the unionising of Uber and Lyft drivers in the United States last October. Drivers on platforms like Ola and Uber are ‘partners’, not employees and hence do not qualify for any benefits that accrue to employees. They do, however, have to comply with Ola’s norms and tariff rates if they want to remain on the platform.
“The only way to solve the delay in being credited after being paid in Ola money is by coordinating and maybe staying off the road altogether. But that kind of coordination is something we drivers don’t have,” says Madras.
The issues raised with Ola Money could well impact its branding with customers too, a large number of whom pay by Ola money. “I have never had a problem with Ola Money for over a year. But if the last month’s situation continues, I will have no choice but to begin using other services, even if they do not have as many cars as Ola does in Chennai,” pointed out J Venkatraman, a frequent Ola customer. Ola has not responded to the allegations despite requests for them to respond.