Conversations with Cabbies #1

Introduction

Uber & Ola (India) have introduced a new dimension to our lives. As a user, of course, the convenience of calling a cab to your doorstep. The bigger change, however, is to the life of the drivers.

The popular mode of private public transport was the auto rickshaws in many cities till the advent of these cabs. Infact, the only place that did have cabs was Mumbai, fondly called ‘kaali peeli’ describing the yellow and black coloured cabs.

However, the arrival of app-based cab service turned the ecosystem upside down. Cab  and auto rickshaw drivers typically were on the low-end of the earning scale. Rickshaw drivers were also perceived as time wasters, who bought an auto and just worked when they wished like.

With Uber & Ola, suddenly the earning potential exploded multi-fold. I’ve heard stories from the older cabbies about earning more than 60 grand a month (the salary of a 3-4 year experienced IT techie – one of the most coveted jobs in India). Infact, I did have conversations with many cabbies about how they not just earned enough to pay off their car loan, but were able to buy a couple more cars and were running it with part-time or full-time drivers.

This rags-to-riches stories attracted people from smaller towns and soon, we had a a ton of people flooding in to be cab drivers. And then reality set in. Companies yanked incentives, the drivers had to work insane hours but the legend lived on. And so they continue to work as cabbies.

When you meet as many people as a cabbie does, there are bound to be great stories. I’m sharing some of the ones I’ve heard directly from them.

Story 1:

The journey was for more than an hour. It was close to 10.00 PM or later, but there was a bit of traffic (when isn’t there traffic in this city!).

“I was just getting ready to switch off the app when your call came in,” the driver said. Now, this is a story that I’ve heard before, and sometimes leads to requests for extra money. My typical answer to this the question “Where do you stay”.

He said he didn’t have a house in Bangalore. Infact, he bought the car 4 days ago and had come in to the city 3 days ago from a little town about 3 hours away. He had been sleeping in his car for the past two nights, and bathing at the public bathrooms when he got a chance.

I had heard stories of such newbie drivers before but most of them had a friend in the city where they could crash for a couple days.

“I don’t really want to stay with anyone. I actually don’t want to stay in this city itself. I’m going to head back tonight.”

He went on to say that he was sick of the city, the attitude of the passengers and the incredible chaos.

Manju was a farmer. The delayed monsoons a few months ago hit his family hard, and he claimed that he had to get tankers ‘from far away’ to water his fields (which smelled a lot like bullshit). He bought this car because the money from the farm was low, and thought he could earn good money. After 3 days, he realised that he would rather work on the farm instead of being yelled at by passengers, find a hovel-like house where he could sleep and spend all waking hours fighting through the nightmare of Bangalore traffic.

Manju’s Last Words: “People don’t have patience. They want you to come to a location and come right now, even if they can see that the road is blocked. They want you to find a place that they do not know. And they yell at you no matter what.”

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