Dynaneshwar Ram Salgare, an Ola driver from Pune, along with the political party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (Pune) (MNS), has filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Ola co-founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal, (Ola Leasing Company – sic), and Ola Fleet Technologies Limited (OFT) under the following Sections of the IPC: 406 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).

This FIR – lodged at the Bundgarden Police Station – is also against 7 other employees of Ola’s Pune office: Nitin Ghagre, Manas, Ajit, Ajay, Prashant, Sarsane and Vishal Chaturvedi. MNS claims that this is the first FIR of its kind filed in the country against online cab aggregators. An Ola spokesperson told MediaNama that it was engaging with the authorities, MNS and drivers since they first reached out to Ola a few days ago.

False Promises

An Ola ad for drivers, handed by MNS at the press meet

MNS says that Ola has cheated the young unemployed youth of Maharashtra by luring them into driving Ola vehicles by promising them monthly incomes of Rs 60,000 – 70,000 in Pune (see image above) and Rs 100,000 – 120,000 in Mumbai. However, drivers only earn a tenth of that, taking home Rs 6,000 – 7,000 per month, according to current Ola drivers. This is because of Ola’s high commission rates, and high car rental rates from Ola Fleet Technologies, Ola’s leasing arm. This, MNS says, is fraud. It adds that Ola uses sign up documents in English to sway the rules of the platform in its favour, and fool drivers.

Why the MNS got involved with Ola drivers in Pune

In March this year, MNS says that it did an andolan (strike) against Ola and Uber in Mumbai and gave these companies 15 days to respond to its demands. It wanted to discuss the different commission and earning rates across different cities in Maharashtra. MNS members were able to send a letter to Ola, however, “When we went to hand a letter to Uber, they refused to take the letter,” said Nitin Nandgaonkar, an MNS representative from Mumbai.

Since nobody responded to their demands and letters, MNS told the Maharashtra Police that “if after this, if Ola and Uber cabs are thrashed and broken, it is on you,” Nandgaonkar said.

In September, 150 Ola drivers protested in Pune alleging that they had been cheated, as per this Pune Mirror report. A driver also attempted suicide, which, according to the report, prompted the involvement of MNS. The report cites Ganesh Naikawade, an MNS represenative from Pune as saying that:

“We had asked all these cab drivers, who were facing the heat, to become a part of MNS so we could help them. We have now taken the issue seriously and will deal with it in our way. We will make sure the Ola authorities involved in this are behind the bars.”

Alongside this, the vehicle division of MNS plans to launch a taxi aggregator app by March 2019, for which it aims to employ drivers. The app is ready, but “we want a legal basis to launch this app,” Nandgaonkar said.

A list of demands for Ola

Failing to meet these demands, MNS says that 800-900 drivers attached to both Uber and Ola, and now associated with MNS, will not drive on the platform from 19 October:

  • Halve the commission (that Ola charges on each ride)
  • Reduce the (number of) logged-in hours
  • Do not put Ola entertainment tablets (Ola Play) on the car or don’t charge drivers to have it (the driver is also charged for having this device)
  • There should be a red switch for driver emergency (for when people beat up drivers)
  • Cancel the 200 km daily limit (Ola limits the number of kms driven daily to 200, it is unclear if this includes dry runs or only trip kms)

MNS also says that Ola has bouncers in the Pune office, whose number should be reduced and/or replaced with security guards. According to drivers, the Ola Pune office staff also does not speak and behave with the drivers properly, are rude and not interested in listening to their problems. MNS would also like the driver agreement with OFT in Marathi, and the drivers given a copy of this.

A list of demands for leased cars from Ola

  • Halve the (daily) rent
  • The operator bill (billing generated by the driver) should be Rs 3000, and if it’s below Rs 2,000, there should be no rent
  • No rent if the vehicle is off road for more than 4 hours
  • No rent for the day on which there was no work
  • No rent for the day on which the vehicle is being serviced
  • No rent on the day of a strike, bandh, or Maharashtra bandh

Regarding reversal and off road, MNS demands:

  • One week’s credit limit (Editor: this was in the list of demands. It’s not clear what exactly this refers to)
  • Till the 10,000 minus balance is not hit, no off roading of the vehicle (Editor: this was in the list of demands. It’s not clear what exactly this refers to)
  • Any reversal should be returned in 2 hours (Ola says that the reversal refers to the
    reversal of an incorrect charge)
  • If the operator bill is Rs 1500, there should be no rent (in case of Ola Leased cabs)
  • Do not take commission for “less booking” (to do with commission on cancelled ride costs)
  • Drivers should be free to divide the car category (this is auto locked to sharing and/or mini or micro)

According to MNS, till the above demands are met, Ola should not sign on new drivers in Pune.

MNS also raised some concerns about cabs not having designated parking and standing spaces in the city. It stated that Ola is employing drivers who have recently come to Maharashtra from UP and Bihar, and since they don’t know the roads, how were they allowed to drive on the platform? It alleged that

  • The Maharashtra Police has cabs employed under Ola and Uber and therefore refuse to take action against these aggregators.
  • Ola is actively giving more business to cabs attached to its leasing unit, as opposed to providing a level playing field for both owned and leased vehicles on the platform.

Threat of violence against cab aggregators

Nitin Nandgaonkar also threatened that MNS would smash vehicles, not something it would like to do (but has in the past, something the party proudly calls the “MNS Style” – 1, 2, 3) and pelt the offices of Ola (and Uber) if Ola continued in its current style of operation. “Todfod karaychi wel ali ahe (It’s time for vandalism),” Nandgaokar said.

Ola says they’re engaging with MNS, drivers and authorities

Ola told MediaNama that they are researching the claim filed against the company, have reached out to both the driver, and MNS, and “wants a win win for both customers and drivers.” The company is also engaging with the authorities to resolve this, it said. However, being an entrepreneur on Ola means that a driver is free to not join the platform if they find the rules unsuitable to them, the company says. “But to take violence as a route of demonstrating is not fair.”

An Ola spokesperson told MediaNama that while Ola drivers have been demanding an increase in the base rates and ride prices, these costs could not be passed on to the customer. It will take a decision (on pricing) when the time is right. Interestingly, Ola adds that in order to be in the top earning bracket, drivers need to be hard working, put in an ‘x’ number of hours and behave professionally with customers.

Ola said that while driver safety is a pertinent question, it is slightly tilted towards user safety more because of the (sexual harassment) cases against women users on both its own and competitor platforms. ‘However, there are also cases where driver vehicles are being smashed,’ the spokesperson said, adding, ‘We have a 24/7 call centre for drivers and we actively engage with them.’

Ola raises some of the following points:

  • While there is no cap on the number of hours a driver can drive for, drivers should ideally be driving for 8-10 hours, not more.
  • The Ola Fleet Technologies (leasing) contract with the drivers states that the vehicle cannot be driven for more than 200 kms a day because – ‘we don’t want the drivers to perpetually be at the wheel, and it has to be with pit stops; and to ensure that there’s no sudden wear and tear.’
  • If the 200 kms daily limit is exceeded, the driver has to pay Rs 2 per km. In August, Ola changed the terms to make it a weekly limit instead of a monthly one. Beyond 1400 kms a week (200 kms x 7 days), drivers have to pay Rs 4 per extra km driven.
  • Ola charges Rs 5,000 (time duration unclear) to drivers, who are not attached to OFT, to rent Ola Play. The daily rental cost for this for drivers is ‘a nominal’ Rs 60 per day. This device also helps the driver get more rides because of an extra service in the car.
  • There’s no difference for a customer between OFT and regular cabs. Both the drivers get the same opportunity for rides.

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Corrigendum: We’ve updated Bhavish Aggarwal’s name to reflect the correct spelling. The error is regretted.