The Department of Consumer Affairs has called out "unreasonable" levy of cancellation charges by cab-aggregators, saying users are not shown the amount of time within which cancelling a ride is permitted.

Drivers, not willing to take the ride, force users to cancel the ride, which entails undue cancellation charges to be borne by the consumer, the government says, adding that cancellation charges are variable and inconsistent.

Cancellation charges are not displayed prominently on the platform before booking the ride, it adds.

Ride-hailing apps, however, say that cancellation charges are levied to compensate the drivers for efforts made towards fulfilling the order.

The Centre advised cab aggregators to respond to the concerns of commuters with utmost priority and take remedial steps to ensure adequate protection of consumer rights.

The directions were given in a meeting chaired by Department of Consumer Affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh. The meeting was attended by major online ride-hailing platforms including Ola, Uber, Rapido, Meru Cabs and Jugnoo.

In an effort to resolve issues which affect consumers in this sector, the government has asked all cab aggregators to become convergence partners in the National Consumer Helpline, to enable better grievance redressal for consumers and also compliance with Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and E-commerce Rules, 2020.

As per the data received from the National Consumer Helpline (NCH), deficiency in services occupied 56% of the overall grievances from April 1, 2021 to May 1, 2022.

The grievances highlighted during the meeting include deficiency in service, the lack of proper response from customer support, pre-ticked boxes, including add-on services such as insurance with the ride charges, without obtaining consent by explicit and affirmative action, driver refusing to take payment by online mode and insisting for cash only, higher amount charged despite going on the same route previously at a lesser charge, unprofessional driver behaviour, and driver refusing to switch on the air conditioner when the consumer is promised AC ride on the app.

The government says that no customer care number is provided on the platform, no details of grievance officer is mentioned on the platform to which consumers can address their grievances and only automated pre-written support messages are given to consumers without redressing the grievance.

On the fairness of the algorithms that calculate the charges for the user, the government says users are not shown the algorithm or method used by the company to charge different fares for the same route from two individuals. Due to this, users are forced to take rides at arbitrary fares, which are much higher than what is charged ordinarily for the same route, it adds. "If it is learnt that in case someone is using the OTA services consistently for going from point A to point B, the charges for him may be higher than somebody who is using it between the same two locations for the first time."

Meanwhile, the companies claimed to have a robust mechanism of redressal of consumer grievances. They assured that concerns raised in the meeting will be duly taken into consideration.

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