The past week has been a dramatic series of events for the Indian Taxi market. Starting out as a tragic rape incident, the press coverage and the buzz on social networks around the, now infamously known as, Uber rape case in India has completely deviated from the original issue at hand.
It started out with the alleged rape of a passenger by an Uber driver followed by a revelation of the lack of safety measures, surprising terms of conditions and a number of violations of the Indian regulations concerning taxi companies, and finally leading to Uber being banned in Delhi and Hyderbad. Ironically none of these violations were ever noticed or brought up by the officials since Uber and Ola’s operations began in the past few years.
So this week we spoke to a number of Uber, Ola and Meru drivers to get a new perspective on these series of bizarre events.
Also at the time of writing this post, bookings via Uber and OlaCabs are still working. Ola drivers claim that only Uber has been banned and they have received no other intimation from the company. Uber on the other hand seems to be only operational in Gurgaon and the drivers claim that it’ll be up and running in Delhi by this weekend.
Rape, Suicide & Murder — Nothing New In Cabs
Some of the drivers who have worked for the traditional cab services in the past claim that there have been a number of similar incidents, some even more serious on the lines of rape, attempted murder and suicide in these services as well.
One driver says that there have been a number of unreported driver suicides due to the bad working conditions, long hours and inconsistent pay in the non-tech taxi companies. Another driver says that molestation cases are quite common as well.
Most of these incidents were allegedly buried at the root level itself via bribes or threats and have hence gone unreported.
Newer players like Uber are still new to the nitty-grities of the Indian legal system while the older players have a good hold on the same.
Driver’s Reaction To The Ban
Many drivers went on to claim that the ban and the continued protest could very well have been a conspiracy by other radio cab operators considering the earlier protests and complaints by the Association of Radio Taxis earlier this year.
Almost 4,000 cab owners are associated with Uber in Delhi and its neighbouring areas, and most of them have bought their vehicles on loan. If the ban continues, it will make it impossible for these cab owners to earn a livelihood and repay their loans.
Many of the drivers believe that there will be some solution to this problem, and that there is no way Uber will be shutting down its operations in the city. “We are happy with the way they treat us and we’ll never leave their side” said one of the drivers.
The agitated cab owners will hold a protest if the ban is not lifted.
We dug a little further on this and the drivers helped in highlighting some of the deeper reasons behind the way Uber has been affecting the traditional players and why this could very well spell out to be a big conspiracy!
How Does The Driver Hiring Process Really Work And It’s Flaws
So far services like Uber have mostly partnered with smaller cab agencies with small fleets of 2–25 cabs each followed by a background check and documentation of the owner and it’s drivers. The verification process takes upto 10 days, after which the details of the driver along with his photo is uploaded into their system and app.
The drawback with this system in the case of aggregator services or the so called app-based taxi services, lies in the fact that these operators do not directly own any of the cars nor employ the drivers themselves.
Agencies often cycle new drivers or use temps instead to compensate for any driver on leave. There have also been cases where the actual driver sends someone else to take his place during shifts. These external drivers are thus not vetted for, leaving services like Uber at the mercy of these agencies.
Similar Practises By Competitors
This is the standard verification process that is employed by other taxi services as well who haven’t been banned. Many of these have recently shifted to a hybrid model of ownership, where a part of their fleet is still completely owned by them and a part is aggregated in a similar way as Uber does, thereby leaving them open to the raised security concerns.
More & More Drivers Are Switching to Uber
On one hand, traditional services like Meru charge the driver, who owns his own car, a non-refundable security deposit of as high an amount as INR 25,000 to get associated with them. There is no assured work or minimum compensation and the average amount a driver earns per day has been declining over the past few months.
At the other end of the spectrum aggregation services like Uber, with deep pockets and in a bid to rapidly tap into the Indian market, have been wooing drivers by offering them better compensation, bonuses and assured work.
An UberX driver will earn a minimum of INR 12,000 per week or INR 48,000 per month, provided the driver is online for 10 hours a day and accepts at least 80% of the requests directed to him during this period.
Now that’s a great amount considering many software and analyst level jobs in India pay a lot lesser for even longer work hours! There are a lot more similar schemes for bonuses as well leading to better working conditions and compensation for drivers, fueling the switch to Uber.
The cab owners claimed that Uber was fair in its dealings with them and rendered customer-friendly service.
“It is very popular among cab owners for its fair dealings and its business is growing at a great pace. While the other companies seek high commissions and delay payments for two to three months, Uber makes weekly payments. The cab owners attached to some cab services with call centres need to bribe the management to seek work, but the technology used by Uber is such that all cab owners are treated equally.”
It wouldn’t be too surprising if this was actually a well planned and architectured move with a lot of lobbying by the older players to set back Uber and the newer players as they are eating into their market, bringing down the prices and pushing everyone to improve their services.
[Featured Image: “Whistle Blower” by Ben Sanders. Credit: Ben Sanders/National Accountant Magazine, Australia.]