Enforcing change — the real challenge for cab services like Uber and Ola

with time comes change. check out that cool jaipur pillows in the background

Every technology goes through its phases when it comes to making money. There is the early adoption phase and then there is the wide adoption phase. Early adopters are those folks who are easily attracted to something new, and they will be happy to get on board something. Then, if the technology made their life better, they will go and talk about it to friends and family. Slowly, more and more folks will get on board as the risk involved becomes less.

Of course, there is a money component involved in this. However, I have noticed that money is not always the real reason why some technologies never gain wider adoption.

As I write this blog, ride services such as Uber and Ola are out of the early adopters’ phase. They have been around for more than 6 years now. Further, they have stopped all those aggressive drivers hire promotions. They have reached critical mass. Anybody who wanted to try new things has already done so, and those who loved it (like me) are sticking to it. Those who did not like it are staying out of it, and the early adopters are continuing to influence others to do the same, but that is no longer moving the needle.

The tough part is now, and this will last a while. Like, until everybody is onboard with ride services or until they close shop or until they decide, ‘okay, we have hit the max potential and we should adjust our operational budgets accordingly’. As a daily user of Uber, I keep thinking, if I was Uber, what is the biggest challenge that my marketing team should work on?

I think, the biggest challenge is to observe the daily commuting habits of an average Indian family. I am from an average ( like way down on the wealth chart) Indian family, and I can perhaps explain this ‘daily commuting habit’ with a simple example. Let’s say, dad is returning from a work trip to another city. He would take a train (because it is the cheapest form of transport). When he lands at the local train station, here are some of the options in front of him.

1. Take the prepaid auto (which tells the fare in advance)

2. Take an auto (and bargain the fare with the auto driver before stepping in)

3. Take an auto (and let the meter dictate the fare, while thinking quietly if the meter is good, or tampered with, or will the driver ask for more than what the meter shows or will he take a long route)

4. Take the yellow taxi (which is something that has never happened in my living memory)

5. Call a family member and see if they can come pick him up.

6. Call an office friend and see if they can come and pick him up.

7. Park his personal vehicle (when he arrived at the station earlier) and use that to return home.

8. See if there is anybody at the station (an acquaintance made during the train journey) who are using one of the above options from 1 to 7.

9. Take the bus.

10. Walk.

You will notice that nowhere in the above 10 options does a ride service such as uber or ola show up. This despite these services plying for more than 6 years now. They all have done the advertising, the big boards and what not. Making all this very interesting is the following points.

· I have equipped my father with a modern and powerful smartphone.

· I have also equipped said phone with large amounts of data.

· My father is savvy enough and knows how to use the apps.

· Uber and Ola as well as multiple wallets (with money loaded by me) are already installed on said phone.

I have eliminated the technical and monetary road blocks to using a ride service. Yet, the above 10 travel options (which were already there before ride services became a thing) are still the options that he perceives in front of him. I have observed similar behavior among multiple individuals. I travel a lot, I constantly see people standing outside railway stations. Waiting for their parents/son/daughter/relative/co-worker and so to come and collect them. I see them interacting with the auto guy for a better rate. I see them not taking the ride service and I also see that many of them are well to do folks, who just stepped out of the same air conditioned train compartment or bus. I see them speaking on a premium phone and using WhatsApp and messengers.

I don’t think it’s a money thing. I don’t think its lack of app using ability either. To me, it looks like it’s the whole ‘habit’ thing. Art is perhaps the best reflection of times. Movies, radio shows and television shows. I have seen a ton of movies from here in India, and I have seen a ton of movies from Europe and US. The characters in the movies travel and I think of the modes of transportation used.

In a movie set in India, the most popular mode of travel is the ubiquitous 2-wheeler or even cycle or walking and at times, if the movie involves rich people, a car. In a movie set in the western nations, even in the very old ones, a car is always present. Everybody has their own car or they get a taxi. The movies from the 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, 70s…any decade and present, they are always using cars. Do the same with a movie set in India, any decade and present time, cars and taxis are still not always present. When the movie setting shifts to the large middle class portion of the population (which is usually the case with a lot of movies) we are back to 2 wheelers and autos again.

I have only observed my own parents from close quarters. I have spent months and months and only now are they finally relenting and allowing themselves to commute in ride services. Even then, they do it reluctantly. Perhaps, they don’t want to break my heart or something like that. At least, as far as my parents are concerned, using a taxi (or Uber) is still something only the rich folks do. Going back to the movies, the characters never used taxi. It’s always personal transport.

Maybe it is not a rich people thing. Maybe it is something else. Even the auto is something which a lot of people will not take, like my own parents. They would prefer someone drive over to them and collect them at the station. Perhaps, it is about not giving up control? Perhaps they don’t trust the auto guy or the taxi guy? Perhaps it is about time. Like they assume that they have time to kill, and other people (the people who are collecting also have a ton of time to kill) are the same.

Maybe it is none of this. I can only observe what I can see. My sample size is too small. Further I have only observed a small set of people i.e. my parents. May be my relatives and friends and co-passengers.

Yet, this is where the real challenge lies for the ride services i.e. Uber and Ola. These companies have the money and power to understand (or at least access to research and data services) why a large population will not use them. In the US and Europe, things are straight forward because those people were already ‘taxi users’. They simply upgraded to ride services. That is not to say that Uber (and similar services) is killing it. There are countries where Uber is straight up banned but that is usually due to regulatory issues more than anything else.

Here though, we in India, we are not taxi users. Essentially something must be done to change that. Any technology that is not accessible to everybody (even in a stripped-down version) is a technology that has failed. If these services (which are technology services) want to change the way we live, they have got to make themselves accessible to everybody. They must. That is the way to go.



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Freelance Tutor — Coding, Generative Art and Photoshop. Full Name : Vijayasimha BR