Surge times: Why I became an Uber driverDeepak Abbot
I have been an Uber rider since they launched in Bombay (India) back in 2014 with my first ride in Mercedes E Class. I have since then taken over 242 rides and spent close to 6 days inside their cabs.
Uber and Ola have made a significant difference in lives of riders as well as drivers. They have given a great source of earning to thousands of drivers across India and single handedly elevated many drivers to becoming tax-paying citizens with liberal payouts and incentives.
Many of us who end up talking to several drivers and each driver have some interesting tales to narrate. This also leads to many people discussing the operations of these cab companies as narrated by these drivers. Discussions range from daily/monthly incentives being earned by drivers, to their personal stories, to confusion around the exact models on how such incentives/revenue-share works. I always wondered if it was possible to be in the driver’s seat literally and understand it first hand.
There came an opportunity when I was introduced by a friend to a new model by Uber which allowed everyone to drive with their personal cars. I signed up and got approved within 2 days to officially become a driver. You do not need a commercial number plate to participate in this after you sign up under their new car pool agreement. This basically meant that I am putting my car for sharing with other riders.
Sign up was very easy. Download the Uber Partner App, upload your license & RC with other details. Uber would verify and approve it within 2 days. Cars registered before 2010 are not allowed.
So here I was with my driver’s badge & driver side App ready to pick up other riders. Uber allows you to set your destination so that riders on that route only are matched. If you do not set the destination then be ready to get all requests.
The experience begins:
With all nervousness, I decided to give it a try and go ‘online’. It was Friday 10pm and I was planning to head back home within Gurgaon. I defined my destination and waited for my first ride. The phone started beeping soon after and here it was. I was being called at Cyber Hub (2 minutes away from my office) and I got the basic details about my first rider like her name, ratings and type of car she requested (It was Uber Go in this case). I accepted the ride and was really nervous as I headed towards the location. I reached there within 2 minutes and I got an alert that the “client has cancelled the ride”. It was a mixed feeling of disappointment at losing my first ride and being relieved at the same time.
After that I got one more request and that was cancelled too within 2 minutes of being made. I was wondering if it had to do something with the unusual pattern the rider on the other side had to experience after they see my car make and my picture.
Next day, I decided to give it another try. Within a few seconds, I got my first request and I immediately got a call from the guy who booked. After I said hello, there was a pause of 10 seconds and the guy at the other end asked if I was a commuter or a driver. I explained him the situation and he was wondering if I can pick his charger from office and drop at his house 30 kms away. It was an unusual request. Since I wanted a real rider, I requested that guy to cancel and he obliged.
I accepted another request and this time the rider was just 100 meters away. I immediately reached the spot and the rider was surprised to see me. She came closer and asked if she could cancel the rider as “she wasn’t comfortable”. She cancelled and I moved on.
At that point, I realized that Uber needs to do a better job of educating the riders about this new offering. Uber should inform the rider in advance that they should expect a private car with possibly a co-rider cum driver (and not ‘Bhaiyaawaala’ driver).
I immediately got another alert and I accepted again. She called me and immediately realized that I am not her regular ‘Bhaiyaa kidhar ho’ driver :). She was excited to see me (I would like to believe that) and asked if she can get her two of her friends along. We started the ride and this time I was in the “driver’s seat” and that gang of girls had so many questions to ask. I dropped them and earned my first income as a driver. I made Rs 271 including Rs 100 toll which I never paid (something Uber needs to fix).
On May 1, I saw that surge pricing was back in Delhi after the 15-day odd-even experiment ended. I decided to go online again as I wanted to settle a very old debate that was taking place across social media about surge pricing and its implication on both riders and drivers. Some people believed (based on driver’s tales) that the surge is created by Uber/Ola to increase their earnings and drivers do not want it as they don’t earn anything extra. I found that really amusing and today was my opportunity to prove that wrong.
Luckily, I got a rider under 1.3x surge and I decided to accept it. This was my weirdest experience as the rider was unaffected by this unusual ride and decided to ignore me and sit in the back seat. You take a real hit on your ego at this point in time (at least I did). It was difficult for me as a “driver” and the person at back chose not to interact at all. Anyways, I finished the ride (phew!) and was eager to see the earnings.
I posted this on twitter which led to a good debate among the Twitterati. Some still argued how it wasn’t the case, despite me presenting real proof. People claimed that many drivers told them otherwise, hence they chose to believe them. I think this confusion arises because most of the drivers are not owners and are paid fixed salaries by their owners. Plus, I inquired further and got to know that incentive and promotional payouts are paid over & above the revenue share from the fare and two are not interlinked. Uber/Ola pay fixed incentive per ride + additional incentive for completing a fixed number of rides. That money comes separately and is not adjusted against the fare earned by the driver.
Few learnings from this experience:
- There is a huge demand for cabs, requests were coming in constantly.
- Many people are still not ready to ride in a personal car for safety reasons I presume
- Uber needs to promote this concept more for people to accept it
- 7/8km + base fare is not good enough to recover your costs if you run a petrol car delivering an average of Rs.10/km kmpl.
- Shorter rides are much more beneficial and can deliver upto Rs.Rs.15/16 per km thanks to the base fare
- Surge benefits are passed on to the drivers. Drivers with commercial plate gets incentive on top of that
- Even at 3X surge, the demand was very high, thus proving the fact that people who really “wanted” would get it.
I may continue with my experiments over the next few days. You can follow me on Twitter to keep a track on my whereabouts and hopefully we may ride together soon.