When Ola Cabs began to offer outstation services, most people thought it was a safe and smooth way to book vehicles, especially for family, children and senior citizens to travel out of town. But the absolute lawlessness and thuggery allowed to recovery agents of banks and finance companies, combined with the unprofessionalism of Ola Cabs, led to a frightening experience that could happen to anyone who books an outstation cab.
A tweep going by the name Vks @VikHasya
posted a long thread on the travails of his family travelling to Mysuru in Karnataka. "I had booked an outstation trip with Moon and her parents to travel back to Mysore. An hour and a half into the trip, some rowdies come in their two-wheelers and create a blockade. These rowdies/collection agents threaten the driver to pay up his past instalments right at that moment else they will confiscate the vehicle. They even ask my family members to get down and figure out our ride ahead," he writes.
In this case, he was available on hand to drive down and fetch his family; things could have turned more traumatic if there was no help available. But the real surprise and concern is that a hugely funded company, offering car-booking to tens of thousands of people round the clock, had absolutely no escalation process or emergency response to help customers in distress.
VikHasya narrates his experience while driving to pick up his family as follows: "In the meantime, I am on a call with Ola's 'emergency' team. After putting me on hold multiple times and multiple people asking me to narrate the whole incident, their only solution is 'sir, you can cancel the ride and book a fresh one on your own. Because this is an outstation booking, we won't be able to help you any further'," he says. By the time he reached the spot, the recovery agents had already confiscated the car and gone away, leaving the passengers on the highway.
The lack of training and empathy from Ola's call centre is clear from what happened next when VikHasya received a call from Ola: "I assume it would be to resolve this issue, but all they want is some ****** OTP so that they can end the trip. And I keep getting constant calls just requesting for OTP. Not even enquiring anything about my family members."
"The thing that pissed me off is, the (recovery) agents knew the driver's exact location. So has to be shared by Ola themselves. Moreover, imagine if this incident had happened in the night and/or when only one person was travelling? Ola's team was extremely unapologetic and had no care for people," he added.
To add insult to injury, he was charged an additional distance fare of Rs4,273 in addition to his family being abandoned on the highway.
Twitter responses indicate that this is not a one-off incident. Abhik Sen tweets that an Ola driver once left him in the middle of nowhere and all the team said was that since it was a business trip, they could not do anything!
Berty Thomas had a similar experience with Uber, where collection agents confiscated the cab and left him on the road during his trip last year from Bengaluru to Mysuru. However, as he was close to Mysuru, he managed to hire another cab to reach the destination.
Khrome has another incident while travelling in an Ola Cab. He was travelling interstate and after reaching the state border, the cab driver told him he did not have a permit to operate the cab in Andhra Pradesh.
"I was asked to pay the additional amount for a permit. I told him that when I booked the cab, it was implied that there were requisite permits. I was dropped on the road. Made complaints to Ola team. Heard nothing from them," he says.
Yet another passenger says that anybody can be a victim when recovery agents confiscate cars on the road. He was left stranded when a private cab booked by him was forcibly recovered. This raises two issues.
Thuggery by Recovery Agents
Despite the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) imposing restrictions on the behaviour and action of recovery agents, banks and finance companies are still being allowed to use tactics that harass ordinary people. The RBI will have to ensure that no commercial vehicle can be forcibly recovered on the streets when it has passengers inside. If recovery agents violate the rules, RBI must ensure compensation is paid by the finance company or bank that hires the agent.
At the moment, recovery agents are deliberately posted near toll nakas and on prominent roads with a list of vehicles that are to be confiscated by the lender. Once they spot a vehicle on which the loan EMIs (equated monthly instalments) have not been paid, they simply go and confiscate the vehicle. These recovery agents demand full amount of the dues on the spot.
There are several incidents where recovery agents have confiscated vehicles from a town or loan sanctioned by a branch that is hundreds of miles away from the spot. For example, the recovery agents seize cars near Mumbai when the actual car loan may have been taken in a distant place like Chandrapur or Nanded.
Once the vehicle is confiscated, it is taken to their godown. The agents are reportedly paid Rs10,000 per vehicle (this money is recovered from the borrower) that is taken over and brought to the godown. Once the vehicle enters the godown, it cannot come out unless all the dues are paid. Even senior officials from the lender claim helplessness in such matters.
This is absurd when the lender already had all the information about the borrower, including their residence address.
In short, if you have bought a vehicle on loan, make sure you are paying the EMIs on time. Otherwise, it may be confiscated anywhere by recovery agents.
Moneylife sent an email to Ola Cabs and would update this story as and when we receive any reply from them.