Complaints started pouring in after a netizen pointed out the issue on social media.
On Sunday, a Twitter account @VikHasya posted: “I had one of the worst traumatic experiences today. Had booked a trip out of resort back to Mysuru… An hour and a half into the trip some thugs arrive in their two wheelers and create a blockade. These thugs/debt collectors threaten the taxi driver to pay his past installments at that time or else they will confiscate the vehicle. They even ask my family members to come down and plan our upcoming ride (sic). »
The pandemic has left the transport sector bleeding, and deeply in debt, many taxi drivers are struggling to stay afloat. Rising fuel prices and falling commutes are their real-time worries, and seizing their vehicles is akin to salt on wounds. As financial firms resort to tough measures, passengers are caught off guard. Taxi aggregators cannot wash their hands of the problem when customers are stranded in the middle of their journey through no fault of their own. The authorities must intervene and instruct the financial institutions to find an amicable solution and break the deadlock.
The customer said he tried to contact taxi aggregator Ola’s “emergency” team. “After putting me on hold several times and several people asking me to tell the whole incident, their only solution was to cancel the ride and book a new one on my own. They refused to help saying it was an outstation booking. I had to travel and pick up my family members who were stranded on the highway. Officers have already confiscated the car and left,” he said.
Berty Thomas, another user wrote on the same thread: “Happened to me once last year with Uber. Same story. Traveling from Bengaluru to Mysuru. The debt collectors took the taxi. Fortunately, we were close to Mysuru, so we took another taxi and succeeded (sic)”.
Ola and Uber were not available for comment.
20,000 vehicles seized in the city
Tanveer Pasha, President of the Ola Uber Drivers and Owners Association, said: “Private financiers hire thugs to seize vehicles. First, financial institutions will send the list of defaulters to these gangs on WhatsApp. Then they will start calling every driver and threatening them. Later, they will find these drivers even if they are on duty and seize the vehicles without notice.
He said more than 20,000 taxis had been impounded in Bangalore alone.
“For the majority of drivers, the CIBIL score (credit score) has dropped significantly after failing to pay EMIs, so they will not get loans to purchase vehicles in the future. In fact, private financiers are also in a hurry to sell these vehicles on the second-hand market, so that the drivers do not have enough time to repay the contributions. It has also led to a shortage of taxis in the city,” he added.
K Radhakrishna Holla, Chairman of the Karnataka State Travel Operators Association, said: “Harassment of loan collectors is now a matter of concern. For the past two years there has been no activity due to Covid and now commercial activities are slowly resuming. There is also an increase in the number of reservations in recent weeks, but there are no vehicles available. There is a shortage of vehicles and drivers after thousands of vehicles were seized by financiers. Recently, a taxi was forcibly seized by a recovery agent while a driver was picking up a passenger from the airport. Financial institutions should show compassion to drivers who are already hit by three waves of Covid-19 and are struggling to make ends meet.