It is no secret that I am an Uber fan. I’ve admitted as much in the past. I’ve used their services in various parts of the world, but most of my interaction with them has been based in Mumbai and Delhi. And lets say 70% of my rides with Uber have been in Mumbai, 20-25% in Delhi and the rest elsewhere. While I can compliment Uber for running a great show in Delhi, I think they will sooner than later be self-decimating in Mumbai.
Uber likes to be known as a technology company. Hence, they claim they operate the backend of a network of cars across 100 cities, where I demand a car wherever I am, and the chauffeurs who have the smartphone apps on their phone, and are closest to you, accept your ride and drive towards you to pick you up and get you across to your destination. Their cars are not the regular taxis, but commercial limo operators. The transaction is cashless, Uber gets to put the charge on your card, and they pay the chauffeurs periodically after taking their cut.
Uber was my answer to the problem of getting from A to B place in Mumbai, where I don’t own a car because I hate the traffic enough to have depended on alternate commute modes for the past 10 years. When reliability from Ola turned into an issue, I never went back to them. Uber came through earlier in this year in Mumbai, and I just started to use the app everyday for my commute to and from the office, airport or any reasonably long distance for me.
Now, firstly, Uber’s claim for on-demand service in Mumbai has not entirely been true because their ETAs are still way off target. They may claim a time for 20 minutes on the app, but the car may actually take 40 minutes to arrive, and if you cancel a car anywhere beyond the first 3-4 minutes, they charge you an INR 200 cancellation fee. However, if the car arrives late, they won’t make it up to you. The house always wins!
See, Mumbai is a peninsular city, surrounded by the seas on three sides. Most arterial roads go north to south or vice-versa, and logjams are common. The precise reason for me to have not bought a vehicle and used taxis most of my life here.
Secondly, they are renting commercially licenced cabs and chauffeurs from other travel service providers in the city, and paying them for the hours and kilometres logged on their cars. The drivers seem to be going through a basic course, but in the blind quest of expansion, they are not going through the training as well. As a result, these guys don’t know how to even use the app properly. Over the days, I’ve seen chauffeurs arrive at wrong locations, accepting rides by mistake and not turning up, putting up the trip meter at their own whim, sometimes forget to put it on/or off and so on with the customers.
With no helpline existing, of course, customers have no option but to write to Uber and wait for them to respond to these issues. I’ve had to wait days and weeks sometimes to hear from Uber Mumbai. So, the issues here, are untrained chauffeurs who don’t know how to read maps and the sucky customer service. When Uber charges a premium (I pay a double price as compared to the Black/yellow Mumbai cab in most cases), I expect their customer service team to be on top of their jobs to resolve issues on a speedy basis, not in a tardy fashion it is at the moment. And if 2/10 interactions turn sour, I can’t even imagine how the months ahead will look like. And yes, they don’t bother looking at their twitter feed for days, and then give corny responses to serious questions.
I can sort of sympathise with the chauffeurs to an extent. A guy who earns about 100-150 USD for a month, does not use an iPhone I guess. You can teach him how to use one, but it is your job (I’m looking at you Uber), to make sure he/she is comfortable with the app and its features before putting him on the road. While customers get an air-conditioned ride and the cab rental companies are getting paid, Uber for sure forgot to include the chauffeurs as a centre piece in their Mumbai eco-system. Chauffeurs sometimes complain they don’t even have a few minutes through the day to themselves, increasing stress on them, and their life is worse off after Uber because they’re continuously on the go, unlike private assignments.
The third issue is the business model itself. Car rental companies are being paid money to get the high-end cabs on the road, and Uber is clearly losing money on these. Now, you pay the same amount whether you get a Toyota Innova or a BMW Series 7 to drive you around. I totally get it that they are trying to establish themselves right now and are willing to pay out of pocket to make it a habit. As someone who builds businesses for a living, I also know that this works half the times. But how long will you fund losses is what I wonder.
Uber has also made it a point to associate itself with every second event in town. Great technique to activate new customers, in fact I’ve myself partnered with them in the past to get my readers a few rides to sample their services. However, when you can’t address customer service issues, then there is no point scaling up so fast. Case in point, they were doling out free ride codes to customers who were signing up for meals with Restaurant Week India. There was no mention of same member not being able to use multiple codes. I booked 5 tables that week, and I had to pay and then go to and fro with Uber for a couple of weeks before they’d credit the amount back in my account.
These issues might just look like a crib, but are not just with me. I’ve introduced quite some number of people to Uber, and they’ve all come back and complained in Mumbai to me about the oh-so-not-awesome experiences last few weeks.
Maybe its time Uber looks up their customer service (riders and drivers both), before committing to further expanding in the city, or else, I feel they will self-decimate like Ola Luxury in no time.
What have been your experiences with Uber in Mumbai?