India File

Quitting the ‘ola-uber game’

Rutam Vora Abhishek Law | Updated on September 10, 2019

More isn’t merry: The cab aggregator model is not as remunerative as before, given the number of cars on the road   -  BusinessLine

Driving for cab aggregators isn’t appealing any longer to drivers

Thirty-five-year-old Prem Mondal moved in from Chapra in Bihar to Howrah, Kolkata’s twin city on the western banks of the river Hooghly, some 10 years back.

Prem started off as a “helper” to a truck driver at ₹3,000 a month. He became a driver (chauffeur) with a salary of fixed monthly salary of ₹5,000 in 2011. During his over two-year-long employment with a Kolkata-based mid-level MNC worker, his salary rose to ₹8,000 per month in 2013. Around June of that year, when Ola was starting to expand operations in Kolkata, he jumped ship to become an “associate” with the cab-aggregator, earning a monthly salary of ₹16,000; plus the additional bonuses depending on the number of trips he made.

“My salary more than doubled, especially, with the incentives coming in,” he told BusinessLine. But Prem took a step ahead. He purchased an Alto and then became his own boss. “It did boost my income to some ₹22,000 a month. But then there were deductions like car loan and so on. I found that my real monthly earnings were still somewhere around ₹16,000,” he recalls. This arrangement went on for a year.

Before Prem decided to shift once again, he put the car on a lease arrangement. And then took up work as a driver with the same ₹16,000 per month salary. “I was assured of the monthly salary. And the EMIs were taken care of through the lease arrangement.” But then the incentives started flattening out. Too many drivers had jumped into the fray to take advantage of the gold rush. Mondal exited the platform and is now registered on an online services marketplace as an “air-conditioner repair mechanic” and is back to earning more than ₹16,000 a month now.

Another story unfolds in Sreerampore, some 40 km north west of Kolkata, where Biswajit Mondal (32), who has been a driver for nearly 10 years, managed to get a second-hand vehicle which he refurbished and started using for rental purposes. “Despite the maintenance cost, I was earning around ₹12,000-20,000 a month. It was good enough for me,” he says.

But his rental income started going down 2014 onwards as the taxi aggregator services — Ola and Uber — started getting popular. Demand to rent his car started going down, and got halved at one point. “I cut back on maintenance. I moved from a registered service centre to a local one. But the business had been hit. People went for the swanky new app-cabs rather than my old vehicle.” By 2015, he had sold off his car and enlisted with a driver centre in Kolkata. But here too, post demonetisation, calls to the driver centre declined.

Unhappy with the changing scenario, Biswajit went on his own. He became a freelance driver, that is, he provides his services as a driver (a minimum shift of six hours) within a select set of known people. These are, as Biswajit says, “retainer clients” from whom he earns around ₹10,000 a month. This apart, he began an electric rickshaw assembly, sale and servicing facility which does quite well in the suburbs. “I'm better off now with electric rickshaw sales doing well,” he says.

Around 2,000 km away, in Ahmedabad, Kishor Mishra is looking out for a job after dabbling with the idea of being a driver with a cab aggregator where his income came down drastically, from ₹70,000 month to ₹20,000-25,000. “I have to manage fuel costs, maintenance, EMI and other incidental costs within this earning. It has got so non-remunerative that I am now willing to take up a driver’s job anywhere if I am offered ₹20,000 salary. I am done with this ola-uber game,” declares the 8th-pass who moved from Uttar Pradesh to Ahmedabad 14 years back.

While Uber did not respond to an email sent by BusinessLine, a spokesperson for Ola says the company has initiated a number of initiatives to help foster better livelihoods for driver-partners. For example, it offers free insurance for all drivers with a cover up to ₹5 lakh. “This policy is specifically designed for drivers, and offers rewards like daily allowance to ensure they don’t lose out on EMI if, for a medical reason, they are unable to drive. Regular workshops and training are conducted to help understand how to drive better and increase earnings,” says Ola.

Published on September 10, 2019

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