Patchy mobile network could be inflating your Uber and Ola fares

  • Faizan Haider, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 10, 2016 00:45 IST
The study monitored five routes in Delhi, the longest being 21 kilometres, and used a dozen different devices, procured by the aggregators. (Sonu Mehta/HT file)

Your Ola and Uber fares may be inflated by a fifth because of poor mobile network, preliminary results of a new government-authorised study has found.

The app-based cab aggregators use GPS installed on the phone of the driver – and not a physical meter like in an auto -- to compute the bill for a particular ride.

But due to patchy mobile network, the phone frequently connects to a tower that may be far away from the pick-up and drop-off points, creating a discrepancy in the fares. The survey was conducted in Delhi but such discrepancies might be a pan-India phenomenon as poor mobile connectivity is a problem across the country.

A recent survey by the International Center for Automotive Technology (ICAT), authorised by the Bureau of Indian Standards, found that app-based cab fares could vary as much as 56% from the actual bill. Over the course of the study, the discrepancy averaged out at 20%.

While this notionally means that cab fares could also be lower than the actual bill, most cases in the study found that a malfunctioning GPS caused a jump in the tariff.

“The distance measurement accuracy varied from 0% to 56% under different situations,” said the report.

Both Ola and Uber refused to comment on the matter.

Read more: End is near for surge fares as fresh law will cover Ola, Uber

The study monitored five routes in Delhi, the longest being 21 kilometres, and used a dozen different devices – procured by the aggregators.

“In some devices, the distance showed up as 28 km and in some as 22. It varied from device to device and network to network. We are planning to conduct an exhaustive research before coming to a conclusion,” said an ICAT official.

India is one of the world’s fastest-growing taxi markets and the two start-ups – The Indian Ola and the United States-based Uber -- have been locked in a no-holds-barred fight over the past year to gain control. Ola is the market leader with services in over 100 cities but Uber is catching up fast.

But the breakneck pace of growth set by the cab aggregators has run into regulatory headwinds recently. Delhi took Uber cabs off the roads last year after a professional was raped by a cab driver. In April, state governments in Karnataka and Delhi banned surge pricing – a practice of increasing fares with rising demands.

Two weeks ago, the Delhi high court told Ola and Uber that they cannot charge customers more than rates prescribed by the government. They were also asked to install meters in their vehicles, in accordance with the law.

But the cab aggregators have resisted the move, instead commissioning ICAT to bolster the case for adopting GPS-based fare calculation by all cab companies. Ola and Uber were among the organisations that commissioned ICAT.

But the study found problems with the GPS-based fare computation, saying billing would kick in only in places with adequate network and the phone would use a mobile tower far away to calculate distance.

“Many a time, the network is lost when you are in the middle of the trip, or going through the defence areas, where jammers are installed,” the ICAT official said.

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