Uber in India – The Challenges Ahead

Let me begin by acknowledging the fact that I personally prefer using Uber over Ola. The UI / UX feels much better, the estimated wait times are close to realistic and the experience is seamless. Amongst all the new age startups that have come up in this decade I really have tremendous respect for what Uber has built.

You see most companies try to go for a me too model and not think of what Peter Thiel likes to call as going from 0 to 1. Uber not only went from 0 to 1, they categorically threatened all the governments of the world challenging the subject of personal transportation – an area privy to governments and so essential for every person living in the planet.

The existing offering was so flawed, people from Kolkata to San Francisco faced the same problem. You stopped a cabbie and asked him to go somewhere, he wouldn’t go. Or he would go but ask for extra money. Why would getting from point A to point B be so hard?

Uber literally solved this problem using technology at a scale and speed that made everyone awestruck and governments and transport unions upset all around the world.

However, I do see the service offering getting deteriorated in the country. My experience is based primarily on living in Kolkata, NCR and Bengaluru and having had a conversation with so many women on this to avoid recency and confirmation bias.

  1. Cabs are no longer cleaner – Let’s face it. A select few cabs are clean , get a higher rating and are covered under “Premium” offering but there is no conscious effort to have the cabs clean.
  2. Drivers often don’t match the description – I have had this experience so many times and I know what you’re thinking. “They tell you to match and if it doesn’t, cancel the ride”. Now imagine you have to rush to work at 9 in the morning, you end up cancelling at rush hour just to find out the next cab is 15 mins away. I’ve had to face this so many times, that I finally gave up and accepted whatever comes my way, I’ll take God’s name, read Hanuman Chalisa throughout my trip and hope I reach office in one piece. Sometimes, the fear does get real.
  3. Women Safety – I’ve not met a single woman who has told me that she feels completely safe in an Uber. Most of them do not even know about the safety features on the app, others just don’t feel the safety features are safe enough. I was once on a flight returning home and ran into an old school friend, seeing her after almost 8 years, and in the 2 hour 15 minute flight from Delhi to Kolkata, 45 minutes went in she narrating about her horrible experience when the driver deliberately tried to take a different route knowing that she was a little tipsy.

While we can’t undersell what Ola has achieved, I still feel these issues need a strong addressal by Uber. Right now, we really do not have enough alternatives to deal with. Recently, I was introduced to BluSmart in Gurgaon, an all electric fleet but more on that later.

I was recently watching an interview of Mr. Dara, the CEO of Uber discussing quarterly results on NBC and I sincerely hope these issues are addressed if Uber wants to stay relevant from Kolkata to San Francisco.

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About the author

Saket Mehrotra

Number cruncher, avid reader, coffee connoisseur, book store hopper & Metallica fan. An active follower of Sensex since 2009. CA, CS by profession.

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