Uber and Ola offer premium public transport
November ended on a happy note for commuters, thanks to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) rules and deep pockets of foreign financiers. Uber India, the car-hailing service, which was given until the end of November to switch from its one-click credit-card-based payment system, launched a five free-ride offer across 10 cities (up to Rs300) for those who registered for an e-wallet with its partner PayTM.
Olacabs, an equally agile competitor, countered this with its own offer of a 50% discount to those who chose its e-wallet service. Since both ride-sharing services are financed by private equity funds with deep pockets, Indian customers had an opportunity to enjoy the ride while it lasted.
Nobody knows where the intense competition in ride-sharing and fleet cabs is headed; but, at the moment, the middle-class Indian is better off leaving her car at home to get an air-conditioned commute at extremely competitive fares. Media reports suggest that Uber and Olacab’s attempt to switch people to e-wallets has been less than happy. A report on techcrunch.com says that Uber launched a ‘rant’ against RBI regulations which require it to switch to a more secure two-factor authentication system rather than its single-touch credit-card option.
At the same time, it has also requested RBI for 45 days more to comply with its regulations. While RBI should certainly consider Uber’s plea for time, its ‘rant’ seems rather hasty. Its website and app did not make it easy at all to locate the PayTM wallet. Even the PayTM website did not provide an easy link on the homepage to attract attention and ensure easy conversion.
In fact, only determined consumers probably managed to get on to an e-wallet that too, in some cases, many days after it was announced. Given Uber’s aggressive claim that people were reluctant to switch, one wonders if the otherwise smart company, famous as a global innovator, did it deliberately.
If yes, it is rather short-sighted and hasty assessment of the Indian market and Uber may end up losing a sizeable chunk of the thrifty Indian consumer who prefers debit cards or net-banking to credit cards.
While the good days of really low prices may not last for ever, Uber and Olacabs have managed to introduce a much needed, high-end transport system in Indian cities—a need not even acknowledged by public transport organisations.
The efficiency of their app-based system will ensure that more and more private cars get off the road for several good reasons. First, parking is hard to find; second, parking charges have turned very steep; third, it is expensive and difficult to find good chauffeurs.
All we need now is for the government, and our regulators, to understand that each car of the likes of Ola and Uber can take at least four cars off the road and free up precious parking space. It must be recognised as an urban necessity that should be welcomed and supported, rather than harassed and subjected to needless red-tape.
This is one instance when global innovation and enterprise have the potential to resolve some of our transport issues. Of course, some have serious privacy concerns about sharing information with these companies. Data sharing is one area where some restrictions may need to be imposed; but it is an issue that is not limited to car-hailing services.
NOTE: This article was written before the rape incident involving an Uber driver in Delhi.
Moneylife Foundation’s Samir Zaveri Railway Helpline felicitated constable Azim K Shaikh from the Thane police, for preventing a catastrophic accident on 7 November 2014. After spotting a detached iron plate on the track, constable Shaikh, rushed towards an oncoming local train with a red-coloured bag in hand, stopping the train in the nick of time. His alertness averted a major disaster saving hundreds of lives and a massive disruption of railways services at the peak traffic hour.
Short delivery, excess demand and overpricing are offences and lead to penalties, if consumers file a complaint
What remedies does a consumer have when she gets less than what she has paid for in terms of weights or measures? Does she have a right to have the price and weight displayed on a packaged product? What are her remedies when she is cheated? The issue affects everybody, but few know that the law provides a forum under the Legal Metrology Organization (Weights & Measures) (LMO).
Moneylife Foundation invited inspector general (IG) Sanjay Pandey, controller of the LMO, who has breathed new life into this low-profile organisation, to explain the Legal Metrology Act and its wide scope. He said, “The main role of the Organization is to protect consumers’ interest by surprise visits or inspections at premises of traders, packers, importers, packaging units and industries, to verify the accuracy of weights and measures as well as to check the net contents effected by them. Short delivery, excess demand and overpricing are offences against the society. LMO keeps a strict vigil on the offenders and enforces the provisions of law by firm hands.”
“We are looking into three areas. One, how builders sell property on square foot basis and how registrars are registering it on sq ft basis. Second, defining call duration standards for telecom companies. How these companies measure the seconds? It is certified by the authorised government agency. Third, digital measurement, i.e., how companies are selling GB or MB—who certifies it and how? Soon you will see some action in these areas,” he added.
Mr Pandey said, “Consumers can file complaints regarding charging higher than maximum retail price (MRP), using non-standard weights, weighing lesser than actual weight, and MRTP violations, at our office. We have set up a helpline (022-22886666) and consumers can even send an e-mail to [email protected]”
Deterrent penal provisions are prescribed for errant traders and other persons under the Legal Metrology Act. Such offenders are brought to book and punished accordingly. There is a provision in the Act to compound prosecution cases at the department level if the offender has committed an offence for the first time. Under such circumstances, the authorities impose compounding fees upon the offender and the matter is settled at the department level. However, if the option is not exercised by the offender to get it compounded at the department level, then the case is sent to the judicial magistrate first class (JMFC) or a metropolitan court. In that case, it attracts the provision of Criminal Procedure Code as it is treated as criminal case.
According to Mr Pandey, even builders who are selling properties using sq ft, instead of sq metres, for measurement can be booked under the Act. “This is because, in 1956, the Indian government passed a Standards of Weights and Measures system to introduce metric system based on Punjab Act. The metric system began in October 1958, making metric weight mandatory by October 1960, and the metric measures mandatory by April 1962 banning all other systems.”
“Puranik Builders published an advertisement that promised 45 sq ft free. We then issued a notice to them. Now, the advertisement says 45 ‘smiles’ instead of 45 sq ft. But let me make it clear again that no builder can sell property on square foot basis as it is illegal.
Under the metric system, it can be sold only on square metre basis. We have written to Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) and are gathering more information on this,” he added.
He also shared an interesting incident, where a magistrates court in Latur levied a fine of Rs4,000 after Hindustan Unilever pleaded guilty under the Legal Metrology Act and Rules. HUL had published an advertisement giving MRP of one of its products without its net quantity. The sum paid by HUL is trivial; however, the company will have to mention the conviction in all its statutory and regulatory filings. In addition, since the company has pleaded guilty, there is no scope for it to file an appeal and have the conviction overturned.
Mr Pandey advised that while buying any pre-packaged commodity, consumers need to check the mandatory declarations. These include:
a) Name and address of the manufacturer or packer or importer.
b) Generic name of the commodity.
c) Net quantity in terms of standard units of weight or measure or number.
d) Month and year in which a commodity is manufactured or packed or imported.
e) Retail sale price of package in the form of maximum retail price inclusive of all taxes or in the form of MRP Rs......inclusive of all taxes.
f) For complaint redressal, every package shall have the name, address, telephone number and email if available, of the person of the company.
Often, consumers are charged more than the MRP of a product. Sometimes, there is an alteration in the printed MRP. Under the Act, both these are offences. “Even MRP printed without mentioning ‘inclusive of all taxes’ amounts to an offence and if consumers approach our department for these violations, we will immediately initiate appropriate action,” he added.
According to Mr Pandey, if packaged water suppliers have a special price for airlines or five-star hotels, which is printed on the bottles sold there, the customer has to pay the higher price. Answering several queries on this issue, Mr Pandey said, “Since they sell at MRP, we cannot initiate any action. However, if they charge more than the MRP printed, we can certainly initiate an action against them.” Earlier, in October, the LMO conducted several raids on companies, dealers and owners of CNG and LPG filling stations. It was found that over 20 CNG and LPG filling operators across Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, had not bothered to use the dispensers (regular pumps) approved by the government.
“Our department realised that the dispensers were not fit enough to serve the consumers and they could possibly swindle them. Hence, we decided to conduct surprise checks. Our department has seized 20 dispensers and disciplinary process has been initiated against the dealers in the court of law,” Mr Pandey said.
The session ended with Mr Pandey sharing his email and mobile number with activists and concerned citizens and asking them to file complaints and report violations. Several activists did, indeed, follow up with a visit to the LMO office in Mumbai. You too can write to Legal Metrology, Maharashtra at [email protected] or to IG Sanjay Pandey at [email protected]