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Is Uber taking its drivers for a ride?

Today I took a Uber ride from Indira Nagar to Whitefield in Bangalore and the traffic out on the streets on a Sunday evening gave enough time for a nice gossipy chat with the driver. Once I called the driver after booking, he started speaking to me Tamil, deducing the language I spoke from my name. Brownie points to him for that.

In India, everybody talks with everybody and we like to shove our opinions down other’s throats. The driver was happy to find a customer with whom he could converse in his mother tongue. Occasionally I do not mind a chit-chat rather than looking at the cars stuck in traffic and craning my head over the phone. Once we got talking, I heard some really inside story about Uber.

It was about the new policy rolled out by Uber to the drivers. As per the instructions, all drivers aka ‘Uber partners’ had to do three shifts mandatorily. The rough break up was:

12 AM — 6 AM => 4 trips

12 PM — 4 PM => 2 trips

6 PM onwards => 6 trips

This was a new ‘rule’ rolled out by Uber that seems to be making the drivers angry. As a business, I can understand the rationale behind the move. Making sure, there are cars on the road at all possible times ensures more customers and in turn more revenue. But what I fail to understand is how can a company ‘force’ it’s ‘independent contractors’ to work fixed timings. Is it even legally binding?

In a day, a driver is expected to complete 12 trips which should not be tough in a metro like Bangalore but the problem arises when ‘shift timings’ come into the picture. As per my understanding, the new rule expects the driver to be on the road pretty much the whole day to complete their quota.

How could a person do three shifts without compromising on their health is beyond my cognition? Will the sleep deprivation not cause rash driving and lead to more accidents?

Uber seems to be negating its own motto of “Drive when you want” and “No office, no boss” with such rules. As a customer, I definitely appreciate having more choices at dirt low prices but it comes at what cost? 

The Incentive Game

There is intense competition in the taxi wars and each platform is offering various incentives to attract more drivers to its platform. In India, currently the two big players are Uber and Ola. There are frequent reports on each company cutting back on incentives over time. Uber seems to have reduced the cash incentives for each trip and the drivers are not happy about it. Uber’s Bangalore office was vandalised recently for cutting back incentives. Word on the street is they have agreed to re-instantiate the old terms. Ola seems to be offering better incentives for TaxiForSure and my driver has no qualms of switching loyalties.

If the companies want to use us, then why can’t we use them.

Transparent Rating anyone?

One other frequent complaint I hear from Uber drivers is they get blocked from using the service for 3 days if they get a bad review from a user. I appreciate Uber’s stringent actions is the reason that ensures good quality cabs. Like me, many of my friends prefer a Uber to Ola based on the assumption that an Uber car will be neat and well maintained. But how transparent are the ratings?

Best case scenario: Driver was rude, a customer gave an honest feedback and so he had to be blocked.

Worst case scenario: Customer was pissed at his own life and decided to mess the driver’s life. Customer needs to be booted out and not the other way round.

To give an example, in Bangalore we have people from different states speaking different languages. The majority population in the city are from a different state. It is not possible for a driver to know all the languages. The driver’s inability to speak a language correctly should not penalise him with a bad rating.

Also to get the ‘ban’ revoked the drivers needed to visit the office in person and speak to the concerned executives. Feels like we are back in the time of kings.

Kneel before me, you chauffeur!

If the driver is not at fault, would he be reimbursed for travelling all the way to the office? And what about the lost source of income for 3 days?

The one who owns the car makes the rules

A lot of drivers do not own the car they drive. Instead they ‘work’ for the car owner who pockets the major chunk of the profit. My driver told me that if he gets Rs.2500, then Rs.2000 goes to the owner and only Rs.500 is his to keep. While I do not know the nitty-gritty of the details and would not like to comment on who is on the right side of the fence, perhaps this a problem that Uber can solve for drivers.

In the case of such scenarios, the company could step in and set up revenue sharing agreements on a mutually beneficial manner for both parties. No other taxi aggregator seems to be doing this. It will be a great way to retain drivers.

What more can Uber teach its drivers?

I have always found Uber drivers quite friendly and well-behaved. The one who drove me today got way too comfortable with me once I started speaking in a common language.

  • He started using cuss words a lot at the other drivers and pedestrians.

  • Asking too personal questions like what was my salary. When I ignored him, he started guessing. Took a few curt response on my side to shut him down.

It is good to be friendly with customers but not necessarily get in bed with them.

I hope Uber coaches its ‘partners’ a bit more not to encroach its customer’s personal space.

My advice for a better rating

My driver told me he never understood why some people remain calm during the ride but then end up giving lower ratings. From the conversation I had with him, he has a motor mouth and needs to trim it down a notch. But there is one suggestion I offered. I told him to ask the customers what is the one thing that he could improve to make their ride more comfortable. The fact that a driver asks such a question is bound to have a feel-good feeling in the customers who might pardon him and give a better rating. I know, I would!

He brushed it aside nonchalantly. But still I gave him a piece of my mind and asked him to refrain from using cuss words just because I happen to speak the same language. I wonder if he will take it, but it was my duty to give it.

Image credit: Uber

@sridharajendran

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11 Comments

  1. swearing is not on. and asking the customer’s salary???? THAT’S ATROCIOUS!!

    i don’t even know what to say sridhar!!

    will tweet this story to uber for sure. dunno if they’ll react or not 🙁

  2.  

    A good article published on linkedin pertaining to economics of using Uber

    Economics of using Uber

  3. Oh really? Driver asking customer’s salary is “atrocious”, but the author finding out that driver makes Rs 2500 daily is just “curiosity”.. Right? 

  4. Hey Shyam,

    Like I mentioned in the article, the driver had a motor mouth and kept blurting out the details. I never had to ask for any 🙂

    Personally, I would prefer the word “over-reaching” compared to “atrocious”.

  5. I use uber in Hyderabad. Few things I would like to add to this post with conversations with drivers.

    1. Once asked feedback in general about users in Hyderabad. He said the crowd using uber in Hyderabad is very good. Generally well cultured people use it. No complaints about users. This was one year back. Now many people are installing uber due to free rides. Need to check perception of the driver about quality of riders in his cab.

    2. A cab driver who used to driver office cabs was happy that he is driving uber and improving his health as he suffered from health problems due to night shifts he did while working for IT company. In short he was happy that he doesn’t have to abide the timings. At the same time, once I took a Uber cab to airport. The driver went back to driving for IT company in weekdays and used to fire uber app for business on weekends. He said,’Earlier uber was giving good incentives. Early birds earned decent amount of money. Now incentives have got reduced and hence he moved back’. All this conversations are three months old.

    3. Took a Uber two days back. As Sridhar has said in the post, it is not necessary to do trips in time slots. He does 8 to 10 trips and he is happy with it.

    4. Once a über driver refused to take me to airport. Complained to customer care service. I don’t know what happened to him but he may have got reprimanded for his behaviour.

    Overall, it has been good experience with uber in Hyderabad.

  6. Hey Rohit,
    Thanks for adding your experience. It is always good to hear both sides of the story. Based on the feedback I got I guess the shifts are tied to the incentives. I believe the driver was either not informed about the details or was doing it for the incentive and still cribbing 🙂

  7. I’m not sure about what is the point behind this post? To rant abut the driver or Uber the Company?

    I personally love Uber. Do you know consumers get their own ratings also marked by the drivers? How cool is that? I am a healthy 4.7!

    Check 

  8. I hate Uber and their customer service is pathetic. Ola is far better and more professional.

  9. I had a rating of 4.6.

    🙂

  10. Mine is 4.9 🙂

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