By Tabu Agarwal:
“After deducting the cost incurred on fuel and maintenance of my car, I am usually left with around Rs. 40,000 – 50,000 per month,” said Sarabjeet Singh, an Uber cab driver who drives a Maruti Suzuki Wagon R under the UberX service.
Life wasn’t always hunky dory for this man. He was only 10 years old when his father, Amrinder Singh, a local street vendor in Patiala, died. Sarabjeet grew up in poverty, living in a one-room house, often sleeping to “forget the misery of hunger”. As his family’s economic condition deteriorated, he moved to Delhi to look for better opportunities. Sarabjeet did numerous chores to help make ends meet for his family. From delivering newspapers on a paper route to working at gas stations, he picked up odd jobs to sponsor his education apart from helping his family financially. After completing his B. Tech. degree through distance education, he joined an automobile showroom as a technical executive. Soon after, realising that the job was not satisfactory, he quit.
Singh, after learning about the advent of ride-sharing services like Ola, Uber, et cetera, decided to become a cab driver. He added that he works about 15 hours a day to rake in more moolah. A steady income means Sarabjeet can afford to support his family in a big metropolis. “For now, I am content with the remuneration and services. In my previous job, I would put in the time, but not get the equivalent amount of pay for the work I did (his salary was between Rs. 20,000 – 25,000). However, with Uber, I put in the same amount of time, and I get the reward. The fact that I love driving apart from getting an opportunity to become my own boss is what is keeping me attached to this job,” he told.
Sarabjeet Singh is among the 250,000 Uber drivers spread across 26 cities in India, the third largest market for Uber after the United States and China. This new wave of socio-economic transformation in the ride-sharing market is primarily the result of better revenue earning, mobile application technologies and highly competitive rates. Anand Subramanian, Senior Director, Marketing Communications at Ola Cabs told The Hindu, “As we make available hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurial opportunities for driver partners on our platform, we are witnessing an increasing trend of people from different walks of life joining us. While for some, such an opportunity serves as a source of additional income to support their families or passions, the flexibility and freedom that the platform provides is also motivating many others to leave their full-time jobs and pursue driving on the Ola platform as a full-time career. This includes working professionals, well-educated people as well as many with unique talents and backgrounds like that of sportsmen, actors, singers, tour guides etc.” He further added that more than 20-25% of the company’s 33,000 drivers are either professionals in another field or students.
Another story belongs to 30-year-old Kamender from West Delhi, who holds a Diploma in Hotel Management and is currently working as a chef in a local hotel. But he also drives his Suzuki Swift Dzire under Ola to earn extra income. His passengers are often intrigued by the graduate taking to the wheel. “Being a passionate chef, five to ten years down the line, I see myself opening my own restaurant in Delhi. But, as for now, my income does not support me due to which I work different shifts to earn extra money. One day I randomly thought about this idea. As I already had a car, I thought of enlisting it under Ola to earn extra bucks,” he said. Kamender doesn’t consider his decision a social embarrassment. “My wife is fully supportive of my decision. I’m earning close to Rs. 60,000 a month, more than my current job. As I am doing a regular job, I have hired a person to drive my car. I also manage to drive it on some days as this job provides me great flexibility,” he smiled.
While these drivers among many others seem to be enjoying this phase, interestingly, many Uber and Ola drivers I spoke to said that their situation has not improved over the years. Take the case of Manoj Kumar, a 28-year-old man who completed B. Com. in Delhi. Kumar, who rented a car and joined Uber two years ago with the hope of getting startling results, said that his income has come down by half. “The nature of this job is such that the income depends on the demand and supply of rides in a day. The incentive payouts provided by Uber, act as a boost to complete a certain number of rides each day but due to heavy traffic, we are unable to do so. The fare per kilometre has also dipped by a third, leaving us with less satisfaction of driving passengers around. I am earning not more than Rs. 20,000 a month which is way less than what I was earning when I started,” he added.
Many drivers also expressed that they were unhappy with the business models of these ride-sharing platforms as well. An Uber cab driver who did not wish to be named, told me, “In a city like Delhi, due to road congestion, it becomes next to impossible to complete more than 10 trips a day — the minimum number required to get an incentive from Uber. Apart from taking care of the passenger’s high-end demands, the company does not even reimburse for the expenses incurred. The growing number of cab drivers is another reason for the falling income these days. At times, the supply exceeds the demand.”
Another example is that of Mumbai-based Sanjeev Rao, aged 35, who left a lucrative job offer with a textile company to become a driver by enrolling himself with Ola. Rao, who thought of this as an opportunity to mint money in a short span of time has been left disappointed. “I admitted my five-year-old son to a private school after my income shot up to Rs. 1 lakh per month with Ola. I wanted my son to get a good education, which I hadn’t had access to while growing up. With the current scenario regarding surge pricing and the unstable demand and supply of rides, I am not sure if I’ll be able to continue to afford it,” said Rao, who is to pay his EMI, along with a monthly school fee of Rs. 7,000 next month.
Despite challenges, the incentive model provided by these start-ups is definitely attracting the educated class of the country towards this thus-far scorned career. However, for a majority of these entrepreneurs, the road ahead seems a long and uncertain one before they begin to get their due share.
Featured image source: Flickr.