Rajeev KV, a Kochi-based Ola driver, had a nightmare of a trip when the five people he had transported from Kochi to Belgaum in Karnataka were arrested by the police for non-payment of hotel dues. Rajeev had travelled 3,200 km and his passengers owed him Rs 91,000 for the trip but he had to return to Kochi empty-handed.
It all began on July 1 when Rajeev accepted a request for an outstation trip on the Ola app. The passengers were Shahansha and Vinu, who claimed to be husband and wife; an unidentified woman, who claimed to be Shahansha’s sister, and her two teenage children, a boy and a girl.
“I didn’t think much of it as they seemed like a decent family. Little did I know that they were actually frauds with cases pending against them in different cities,” said Rajeev.
Over the next 11 days, they first travelled from Kochi to Coimbatore, then to Bengaluru and finally towards Belgaum. It was at Belgaum that Rajeev found out that the family did not have the money to pay for their stay at the Marriott Hotel.
“Every hotel they went to, they paid through online transactions. At the Marriott, the bill ran up to Rs 70,000. They claimed they had paid the bills online and that it would take a day for the money to get credited with the hotel. When the hotel said they can only leave after the full amount is credited, they extended their stay for one more day,” said Rajeev.
When the family could not pay for their expenses at the hotel, including Rajeev’s fare, the police were called.
“There was a rape case pending against Shahansha and a missing person case filed by Vinu’s parents in Hyderabad. The five people had not made any payment throughout their journey and had been conning the hotels they had stayed at,” said Ramesh S Chowdary, Circle Inspector, Kakati Police Station.
“They were brought to the station and the girl called up her parents in Hyderabad asking them if they could pay the hotel bills. After a while, the parents arrived with two Hyderabad police officials and took the woman away. The poor Ola driver got caught in the middle of all this, but the hotel people got their money through the court,” he added.
When Rajeev got back to Kochi and contacted Ola about his ordeal, he did not get much help.
“Initially they refused to pay but I then contacted the local police and with their help, Ola has agreed to settle my claims,” Rajeev said. He has, however, not yet been paid.
The ordeal Rajeev faced hints at the lack of accountability of taxi aggregators that operate outstation trips. Ola, for instance, does not collect details of passengers who book outstation trips and the driver can only be paid once the journey is complete.
“What if they had been terrorists or Naxalites? I, too, would have been implicated and my life would have been ruined. Even worse, if someone had killed me, the taxi aggregator is not liable,” he added.
Sources within Ola told TNM, “Rajeev will be paid for the trip, but we have some procedures to follow.The payment has been delayed for it’s a huge amount and we have to independently verify the claims as there is a police case involved. When the driver contacted our Ola team, we did not turn him away, but instead asked him to file a formal complaint with the police.“