Friday, August 7, 2015

Uber revelations in Mumbai

Uber is a breath of fresh air. Having spent a considerable amount of time waiting for taxis in Paris in various weather conditions and extraordinarily large amounts of cash for cabbies in The UK, I was happy to hear about Uber. Here is one company that makes our life easier. The fare is cheaper and affordable. There are no disappointments after flagging down a cab. Sometimes, the driver is not interested in going in your direction. The Uber model is beneficial for both drivers and also the passengers. When I visited India a few months ago, I realized the above statement is not true. Although the model remains beneficial for the passengers, it does not necessary hold true for the drivers.

While in Mumbai, a friend of mine hailed me a Uber cab. My friend showed me a cool app showing the location of the cab. After doing a quick action on the phone, we were directly connected to the driver. But the driver's location was shown incorrectly on the app and hence he will not be able to pick me up. We tried again. This time, a cab showed up within a few minutes. I was planning to catch an international flight. The app directs a route for the driver. The driver seemed confused with the directions. He told me he would be taking a different route. I don't know Mumbai, but I decided to take a leap of faith. To be fair, I reached my destination on time without taking a circuitous route. I classify all the above as software glitches. What disturbed me was the conversation with the driver.

I was curious to find out how Uber has changed the driver's life. So I went for an open question. "Is Uber better than your previous job?". The driver shrugged. "I can't say anything now. I will have to wait and watch". With this statement, I was intrigued. "Why?". My response might have been inappropriate, but I couldn't resist asking it. "I still have not got paid. I have started this job only for two weeks". This answer was shocking because I thought the drivers were also the owners. On the way to the airport, the driver explained the situation. His current boss owns two cars. The owner is hiring drivers and running the operation using Uber.

When I reflected on the new revelations, the situation has not changed much for the drivers in India. In fact, the drivers will find it tougher now. Earlier the owner hires the drivers and hands them over the keys. In the evening, the driver returns with the collection and the odometer reading. The driver gets paid in the evening. The owner pockets his share. This system was advantageous for the driver as the odometer reading does not reflect the number of trips he made. The driver might have taken a passenger to a destination and taken another one back to the starting the location. As the fare covers both to and fro, the money earned from the return journey goes into the driver's pocket. Now the owner gets paid by Uber without leaving the confines of the home. Where does that leave the driver?

I have nothing against Uber. I believe companies like that a great enabler. But there is always smart people out there who will be able to use these services in a different way than envisioned.

Tags: Musings, Taxi, Uber


  1. Uber has certainly been a game changer in many markets. In Paris it has been a pleasure to consistently have professionally dressed and polite drivers, clean cars in good condition and no surprises on the fare. However the practice of charging 1.9 times the regular fare during peak times is outrageous, and I have never accepted this rate. Good to be notified in advance and be able to make the choice I guess. Interestingly in Copenhagen this week the only option available was Uber POP, which has been made illegal in other countries.

    1. What I like about Uber is the availability and the fare. I had many disappointments after flagging down a cab. The driver is not interested in going my direction. Although Paris has reasonable charges for fare, it is outrageous in UK.

      I had not heard about Uberx and Uberpop. So I had to look it up. :) My personal opinion. It is a way of circumventing the local laws.

      The reason for writing this piece is partly the disillusionment. Uber is a service that is possible with technological advances. It is supposed to make money for everyone. Unfortunately, it doesn't. The poor driver in India is still driving a car oblivious of how this could help him. And he has not been paid even after driving around for 2 weeks!

  2. Each and every company starts with minus and plus. So we need to wait and watch. Nice article.

    1. For any successful technology, there is a good side and a bad side. The whole mantra is empowerment. But it doesn't really translated well. So I was disappointed

  3. The name 'Uber' always reminds me of that Delhi incidence. As I remember, Uber was banned in India for some time after that.


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