You often find people complaining about the poor condition of the public transport where an auto-rickshaw driver fits more than 8 people in the seat of 4, where people cry about the stinky smell from the passengers next to them in the crowded metro, where looking at the condition of vehicle one wonders if it was brought into use way back before independence. Every parent in their life has said this to their kids, “You don’t know the struggle we did to reach school, we used to cycle 5 kilometers every day. Life is very easy for you today.”
So, what has made this life easier for us? The answer is on-demand transportation technology. Now, let us understand what goes behind one of the giants in this industry, UBER. The fundamental process starts with the rider entering the destination he wants to reach, an estimated amount to be paid is generated for different modes of transport, a nearby driver is notified and he accepts the ride, the driver picks up the rider and drops him to the destination, a bill is generated on driver’s phone which is paid by the rider. But, this process has not been explained in its entirety.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes Uber rides show unreasonably high prices? We usually justify the increased price by calling it a peak hour price and pay more than what we are supposed to pay. The truth behind this is that Uber drivers have found a way to manipulate the application and create a “surge” in prices. Surge pricing is a premium (calculated in different ways)that Uber charges in situations where demand for rides is likely to outstrip supply–for example, at rush hour or when a stadium event lets out. Although it’s difficult for riders to determine just how much of what they’re paying goes to the driver, drivers do earn substantially more during surge times than non-surge times. So, it’s certainly in their interest to make surges happen if they can. They do so by turning off their rideshare apps to create a shortage of supply, all at the same time. As a result, the prices hike. So, when they turn the app back on, the drivers all get a surge. Although Uber assures this behavior is neither widespread nor permissible on the Uber platform, and they have technical safeguards in place to help prevent it from happening but it can be difficult to determine if the observed price spikes are drivers manipulating the app or normal supply and demand.
Practically, it is not even the driver’s fault. Many of the drivers admit that they don’t want to do the artificial surge, but they feel forced to do it after three years of pay cuts. After excluding all expenses of the car, many of the drivers say they are left only Rs 700 at the end of the day, out of which they have to also pay for loans. Companies like Uber, Ola and TaxiForSure started with selling a fantasy, but surely today the fantasy is in turmoil for the drivers.
There isn’t an immediate solution to the drivers’ protest as the cab company Uber is deep in losses and has to cut its expenses one way or the other. Still, to recover the losses borne by Uber during this strike period, Uber proposed a temporary solution of providing incentives to the drivers, however, it hasn’t specified how. A possible scenario in the current situation can be to provide incentives considering the kilometers completed along with the earlier criteria of the number of trips completed or the value earned. While competitors like Ola are too suffering losses, they have assured the drivers of improvement in their situation within 20 days. Drivers are not left with any definite solution; either they continue earning less or move towards an independent system of meter-based transportation. It is a big move both ways. It’s a long road before the dream of a happy life becomes reality for these cab drivers.