Editorial

Next Time You Book A Cab, Spare A Thought For The Driver

Whatever little I’ve traveled since the phase-wise unlocking began some three months ago, it has been through app-based cab services. In simpler words, I’ve preferred to shell out extra for the guaranteed physical distance disguised as ‘safety precautions’ that Ola and Uber offer.

For Someone who has taken pride (I like to believe I still do) in using public transport for his entire life, it was a decision that punctured the ego and created a few holes in the pocket, already running on life support since April this year. Then again, fear of life is the greatest fear of them all. It can create devils out of gods, dictators out of democratic. On that parameter, compromising pride and taking further economic hits are perhaps just the smaller consequences I faced.

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 There is, however, a long-term price that you pay. In my case, it was being delusional, as far from reality as one can perhaps go.

In my constant battle to keep the virus at bay, I had somehow managed to convince my immediate family and friends to come under the safety net of Uber and Ola even for a 2-kilometer journey. This, for the large part of the last few months, had created a false illusion of app-based taxi services being the most lucrative organizations and its drivers the happiest. While the first part may bear parts of reality but the second one related to drivers was a meteoric myth.

 It took weeks and numerous conversations with various drivers during my journey for that myth to get busted. It all started when two different cab drivers on obviously two different trips asked my permission to cancel the trip after I had already boarded the cab. The reason was the long distance and the potential opportunity to earn more.

 The drivers were ready to incur the nominal loss levied for canceling a trip in order to earn more through a long trip. Both of them charged me the exact amount displayed when I had booked the cab but their earnings were more as there were no deductions from their service providers.

 This is not the best practice, the drivers know it. But for them, the fear of life has little do with staying away from the virus and a lot with making ends meet, which is becoming increasingly difficult with an income slashed by at least 50%.

Yes, restricted cab services have been up and running since May and a few families like mine have also started to use them more instead of public transport but the numbers are too less and travel too short to make up for their losses.

Before lockdown, on an average an Uber or Ola cab driver would complete 15 trips a day in his 9-10 hours of duty, roughly covering a distance somewhere between 100-150 kilometers. The number of trips is too few and far in between now, gone are the days of at least two-three 25-30 kilometer bookings a day.

“This is my first trip in 3 hours. I was about to close the app and thankfully your booking came,” said an Ola driver. “I’m on the road since 9 am and have completed only three trips,” he added.

The cab drivers’ earnings are directly proportional to the trips they take and the distance they cover. Less number of trips and shorter distance means far less income.

“The company used to pay RS 14-15/km before lockdown. Now they pay us only 9-10/km. They have obviously slashed the rates keeping the customers’ request of ‘no AC’ in mind but that has impacted our earnings a lot,” said a middle-aged driver who has been driving both OLA and Uber cabs for close to six years now.

The reluctance to travel coupled with the reduced fare rates have severely impacted the cab drivers.

“We thought reduced fares would encourage more travelers to avail cab services but it has actually brought no change. We have to wait for hours to get a booking,” said a driver.

Another driver complained of the gap between demand and supply. In this case, there are ample of cabs and multiple drivers waiting for in the same area for a handful of customers.

“You will always have a cab now in your locality. I see a lot of drivers waiting for bookings in the same area. Some get it within minutes while the others have to wait for hours as there are few travelers now.”

Another small but significant problem is the reluctance of passengers to pay in cash. I have no shame in admitting that I’m one of them. I’m a firm believer in cashless transactions but I paid my last two trips in cash. Here’s why:

“The reason why we request customers to pay in cash is that we get the money immediately. It helps us in fuel recharge and also takes care of our daily meals. The money paid through e-wallet gets credited to our bank account within 3-4 days and sometimes a week. In these tough times, we can’t wait that long,” said a young cab driver.