Have App Taxis Revolutionized Affordable Transportation By Scaling Too Quickly At The Cost Of Security, Operational Chaos & Customer Needs?

While I celebrate the last day of #OddEvenDobara, I am thankful this period exposed me to the absolutely negative and pathetic operations that is App Cabs/ Cab Aggregators today — so many blind spots have gone unnoticed as user acquisition and capitalist forces force them to report higher numbers while ignoring basics.

Disclaimer:

1. This #OddEven period wasn’t the first time I’ve used these cabs, In fact, I average about 20 -60 a month and in different cities, both for personal and professional reasons.

2. I also don’t claim that I shall abandon using them because my needs are fulfilled conveniently at least as far as hailing a cab is concerned

3. I do have friends and business contacts in all establishments and this is a completely personal view that does not damn the business operations or wish for its doom but highlights the not-so-obvious holes that must be plugged

4. No business is without problems, No one is perfect, No operation can scale without teething problems hence the benefit of doubt and the euphoria about innovating to cater to customer needs not customers is implied, understood and acknowledged

5. This article expresses my personal views, and not those of any of my employers — past, present or future

So when Uber/Ola were launched, the Messiah of Air conditioned comfortable transportation rained freebies on all of us — Free rides, Cheaper than Auto Rickshaw Prices, Fast Customer Service (on Social) and mostly all complaint free experiences. Sexual Assaults on women by Drivers and some reported nasty incidents were hastily forgotten while the companies soared from a few 100 thousands to many hundreds of thousands of rides per day and the rising numbers continued to baffle.

Everything below is basis personal experience and leverages what I know first-hand. Here are 5 things that are definitely not on the radar for cab aggregators as they continue to scale and expand


1. Handling Drivers Abuse and Taking Corrective Action

Drivers are the oxygen that fuels soaring valuations & value for technology startups in this space. More Drivers, More availability, More Rides, Bigger numbers. You get the drift

Driver Training is the cornerstone along with KYC while onboarding newer ones to the platform hence that’s a given. Errant Drivers are disbarred from plying — OK but how do you deal with false uncouth claims by Drivers to get away with bad behavior?

Come 2016, #OddEvenDobara and an absolutely helpless dependency on cabs who hold us at ransom as we manage transportation needs for ourselves and in my case for my parents. Senior Citizens are not excluded from the rule, neither are hired drivers so the only option is hired cabs for them when they don’t even know how to use smart phones

On 18th April, booked many a shared ride for getting my father from Point A to Point B while Surge Pricing was still on. Many a failed/canceled bookings finally gave way to one shared ride where driver sighted 10 mins to reach location. I explained then that I am not the passenger and the location provided is correct. Driver comes 20 mins later, calls from a location that’s 500 meters away and asks for the location again which I explained including landmarks even bus stop location and an entry gate for a pick up from lobby (Which was explained 3 times at least). All well so far, father goes out to find no cab or driver. He calls the driver (I passed on the number ) and driver abuses, yells asking why he can’t get himself to a location 500 meters away where he is parked under a tree waiting since the last 10 mins (which is a lie). Father explains he would take many a min to walk and all the driver can do is drive on the straight road ahead and to the location. Driver hangs up. Before my father can call me driver cancels, I get a notification on the app, I call him to be abused and hung up on.

a. Drivers are supposed to call from the App where passenger numbers are masked but they don’t even call and every single time I book, I call from my registered mobile number hence the entire conversation escapes the record. BIG Problem because its your word against his. Best solution is no solution apparently?

b. Driver says he was low on fuel

c. Responses and Status so far: none

What you can do: Report a driver, Report an Issue with the Ride

Response received: ranges from none to a bot canned message: “Apologies for the inconvenience. We will send a feedback to the relevant team to look into the same”

2. Compromises on Passengers Personal Security

On 25th April, I took a shared ride (again) back home from work — Driver was chatty while I was in no mood to engage in any conversation except providing directions. Driver continues to talk on the phone, take calls, make calls, provide installment details to his bank and even call cuistomer care all while there is a ride on. I dismiss and continue reading because (Remember) I am in no mood to engage

In the middle of the ride, the map shows that I need to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere to an ATM location because well the map says so. Driver calls customer care , put them on speaker, he is asked to do as maps tells him to

I call customer care, explain that my location hasn’t changed and there is a bug in their maps at a specific point in the ride where I’ve experienced this before and plead with them to drop me to my original destination. Driver does the needful

Now the horror: a couple of days later, on 27th April, I get a call from the Driver asking why I had logged a complaint against him because of which he is disbarred from using the platform and he confirms the Operational Service center has provided my name, phone number and details of the complaint. I disconnect. Call customer care while he is trying to call me again.

Customer Care is toothless and useless so I Ask for the Security Desk to call back after the lady confirms with the floor supervisor about the process.

Driver calls and now says: I am a brother to you and dropped you from where you work (he knows that location) to your home (he says that loud) and he has my number so he can bring in trusted people who will explain in case that’s needed but I should withdraw the complaint

d. Drivers are supposed to call from the App where passenger numbers are masked but he didn’t hence he has my number

e. Responses and Status so far: Security Desk spoke to me, informed that they will let driver use their platform and look into why operations provided my name and number. Nothing since then

3. Demand Vs Supply Imbalance changes Drivers Attitudes: The start of the OddEven period meant surge prices, unbelievably high demand and atrocious driver attitude. When Surge is on, you can be rest assured the chances of running into an atrocious monstrosity of a driver with the rudest conversation skills are highest than ever.

a. Polite responses are met with rudeness

b. Unless the destination is a few meters away there is a demand for you to cancel and book another ride [See #5 below]

c. Paying no heed to instructions for pick up point even when told customer being picked up has special needs

Faced this in almost every booking, thankfully, at least one sane well behaved driver came to the rescue every time and safely drove my father home. The number of attempts and abject helplessness in each booking/cancelation is not worth your reading time but ranges from a couple of mins to half an hour in some cases

What you can do: Report a driver, Report an Issue with the Ride

Response received: ranges from none to a bot canned message: “Apologies for the inconvenience. We will send a feedback to the relevant team to look into the same”

4. Shared Rides (Pool) Operational Management: Matching Pool Passengers, their Routes with Drivers accepting the Ride

Savior for everyone who wish to cab or are forced to depending on their needs. Herein lies the problem: Drivers accept bookings who are kms hence several 10s of minutes away. Lack of supply means an inevitable and unenvious match with a co-passenger who’s also being picked up/dropped. Calling the driver is not useful as they’re looking up the map/depending on customers instructions for a drop/pick up while negotiating traffic

a. Many times, driver presses cab has reached destination when the map shows several kilometers away.

b. Call driver: no use, Report a problem: No response, because too many complaints, too many drivers and too many operational issues

c. Driver doesn’t wish to drive to your area, asks you to cancel. You refuse, he abuses and/or pleads sighting your privilege or refuses to budge [See #5 below]

What you can do: Report a driver, Report an Issue with the Ride

Response received: ranges from none to a bot canned message: “Apologies for the inconvenience. We will send a feedback to the relevant team to look into the same”

5. Canceling a Ride to Save Drivers Incentives & Your Good Deed of the Day

So driver has good (Debatable) reason to cancel, the cancellation can never ever be on his behest because incentives pay out depend on number of cab rides , please note number, hence, no matter what — employ any one of the methods: beg, site privilege, threaten, hang up, not answer phone BUT never ever cancel is the new drivers mantra

Typical Excuses: Short on CNG / Cannot Ride to Airport/ Cannot ride to border (Delhi-NCR)/ Short on Sleep / Don’t know where the pickup point is / Can’t understand maps / Too Far Away

Typical Conversation:

Driver: Please cancel madam

Me: Why

Driver: <Insert Excuse>

Me: No

Driver: Please Madam <Insert reason>

Reason: Customer can afford an air conditioned ride, hence Privileged / Cancellation charges get reversed easily with an email (Uber) — You have extra chances to book another Ride before being blocked for a couple of hours (Ola) / I am poor will lose incentive /You are a woman will understand I have daughters to feed at home so will ply close to home / Cannot understand maps- New to Delhi / Filling in for someone

Me: OK

What you can do: Report a driver, Report an Issue with the Ride

Response received: ranges from none to a bot canned message: “Apologies for the inconvenience. We will send a feedback to the relevant team to look into the same”

Sincerely hope that attention is paid to these issues and better processes created and observed to fix what’s broken. These services are much needed and also used, it’s only fair to expect better of them

What do you think? If you’ve had a similar experience or have views on this subject, pls let me know by leaving a comment or tweeting to me: @jasuja. Don’t forget to “recommend” the post of you liked it – look forward to hearing from you

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