Travelling back and forth between Chennai and Bangalore often has given me multiple opportunities to talk to cab drivers in both cities: to understand how they make business, and also to know if the rumours that they earn more than IT employees are actually true.
Over the past few months, I had observed that while there are more Ubers in Bangalore, there are more Olas in Chennai. This was kind of perplexing, as both the cities are very similar and there can be no apparent reason for this anomaly. Also, I noticed that there are more Ola autos in Chennai than in Bangalore although both sets of autodrivers are known to be equally notorious.
So it was a surprise when I tried to book a cab in Chennai at 5 in the morning and found more Ubers at a stone’s throw away than Olas. I booked an Uber and started talking. These cab drivers are generally nice chaps. Imagine sitting inside the same car all day and driving around. Despite the fact that driving is awesome and will be a part of my list of top five things to do in my own time, I’d go mad if I didn’t find talking company. So even if they do seem haughty at first, they’ll start talking with some mild prodding.
This cabbie was an Ola driver for a year or so, and recently jumped ship to Uber. And he tells me many of his friends did the same. So that explains the shift in numbers, but not why. I prod him further, and a casual conversation gradually escalates into a rant. Not only did Ola have unreasonable daily targets, they weren’t settling the dues on time either. Now I know why, when I booked Olas the last three times, the drivers were particular in asking me if I paid by cash or Ola money wallet. If it was the wallet, they will decline the rides.
Uber on the other hand, had reasonable targets like ’15 rides a day gives you ₹5500 incentive’, which the driver tells me is not too hard to achieve. It definitely is, in Bangalore but Chennai’s traffic isn’t half as bad so he should be fine. I didn’t voice that though. He also gets 70% from every ride he makes. Approximating 15 rides a day worth ₹100 each and making a quick calculation, he would make close to ₹7000 a day which comfortably puts him in the Indian upper middle class segment, and definitely above me. I’m obviously not considering his expenses here, but it’s still not a small amount.
I ask him if traditional cab services like Fastrack have taken a hit as a result of Uber and Ola flooding the market, and he says no. The auto guys are the ones affected. But he feels they deserve it. All this wouldn’t have happened if they were fair right from the beginning. Chennai’s auto drivers’ notoriety is known far and wide. End of the day, he seems a happy man now.
While Ola has been clearly bitten by the startup bug, Uber is here to stay. Whether I would leave my current job to become a cab driver is another matter entirely.