You need to get somewhere. So, you open the app, put in your destination, select the cab type and wait. You might call the driver because you're in a hurry. The driver has joined the service just a few days ago. He was probably familiar with WhatsApp and a couple of other phone apps, and things are new to him but he has to entertain the customer in the best possible way.
When a driver joins either Uber or Ola cab hailing services in India, he has to attend a short session organised by them. On an average, Uber's session is 20-minutes long, where they familiarise the driver with the usage of the app and maps, and tell them how to interact with the customer.
"The classroom size varies from time to time and place," an Uber spokesperson told HuffPost India. "But we make sure that we give enough attention to the driver to make sure that he understands the functionality. We have some part of the apps coded in the local language as well."
Ola takes a slightly different approach to training its drivers. If an aspirant wants to become a driver, they give them skill-training too. But if a commercial driver wants to join Ola, the training is divided into two sections -- technical training that explains how the app works, and business training.
"It is important for us to make the drivers understand how the technology works," Anand Subramanian, Senior Director, marketing communications, Ola, told HuffPost India. "Many of them are experiencing the merger of tech and travel for the first time. The training is generally in the local language as we are covering 102 cities in the country. We also make them understand how they would earn from partnering with Ola."
The company has an app, called Suvidha app, which helps the driver getting on board very quickly by verifying documents and the car's quality. The average Ola orientation class has 40 drivers attending a 30-minute training in metro cities. If a driver is unable to attend the training, he can get the video and reading material on the app.
Now, we have all attended classes at some point in life. While using the app is easy, it cannot be easy to impart map-reading training and soft skills in such a short time span. As it is, there are many features and enough complexity in the rider's app. The driver's app too has some functions which are not easy to understand right away. Bear in mind that many drivers have previously not used any apps beyond basic messaging and entertainment.
Uber says that it gives pop-up notifications to drivers during their first week, as well as extra assistive features. But most drivers are mainly interested in getting through their quota of rides and the numerous notifications are often just swiped off.
HuffPost India spoke with several Ola and Uber drivers independently and the feedback was mixed. Most of them feel that the training is short, and adequate for learning just the basic functions. But there are certain advanced features and incentives that need more time to be grasped. Even the most tech-savvy drivers find it difficult to stay on top of features that change almost every few days. When many riders don't know about the options available in the apps, it would be unrealistic to expect a driver to keep track of app updates.
Naturally, incentives for drivers play a large role in the scheme of things. Ola and Uber both have a fluid, or rather, a volatile incentive model. The incentives change periodically and the driver gets to know about them by SMS. As a driver once told HuffPost India, "Sir, pehle bahut easy hota tha samjhna. Ab kitna complex kar diya hai." (It was easy to understand incentives earlier, now it has become very complex). A driver showed me a very long SMS that included many points and conditions to earn an incentive. It looked like a tutorial for a very intricate strategy game. While one is trying to understand the power-ups, new rules are introduced.
Uber's driver app is technology heavy. The company has been in business for long and in multiple countries, so there are many features. Some of them are unique to the service such as 'Driver Destination' which allows drivers to take rides towards their home when they are ending the day. Also, there is 'Forward Dispatch' and 'Auto Accept' to get the next ride automatically when they are dropping the current rider.
There are some features common to both apps, such as timely reports for earnings (there are daily reports as well), start and stop the ride, heat maps to understand where they can get rides. Ola's app even suggests places where drivers can rest. Uber's app warns drivers if they don't take rest and drive for very long periods.
In terms of safety, both companies track drivers' driving speeds besides breaking patterns to analyse their driving. Combined with passengers' ratings and the data from the car, both services provide certain feedback to drivers. And, each driver has to meet certain criteria to stay in a particular category.
It is also important to understand that there is a huge gap in India when it comes to fitting the mapping technology. Serious work needs to be done on technology on the back-end by companies such as Google Maps and the cab companies. In Google Maps, many lanes and 'one ways' are not listed. Cab companies need to fill this lacuna by doing their own surveys.
Ola also has a lot of driver incentives such as family care, including taking care of the children, daily loan repayment, organising driver melas for loan and more. Uber also has driver gatherings for easy loans and minimum down payment for owning a car through deals with various car makers.
Then there are rude passengers to deal with. There have been various incidents of rude behaviour on part of riders. Cab companies need to put out a strong message on this issue. While there is a rating system for riders just as there is one for drivers, it is hardly visible to the rider herself or himself. And a customer is seldom or never given feedback for his or her behaviour with drivers to avoid tussle and for the fear of the driver getting 'fired' and given a low rating. But plenty has been written about occasions when it is the customer who needs to be 'fired'.
OLA Share Passenger Rules
- The passenger has to enter the destination before booking OLA Share.
- The wait time for the passenger is two minutes. Once the cab arrives at the pick-up point, the passenger should board it within the waiting time limit.
- The passenger can't change the destination during the ride.
- OLA Share allows a maximum of 2 booking per ride.
As reported before, UberPool and OlaShare are the most popular, as well as the most complex segments of the cab business. There are some set rules for customers as well. Often drivers are confused about whether they have to take the next request or not. It is the cab company's responsibility to make drivers understand the rules and regulations.
In November, it was reported that a passenger in an UberPool ride had unruly manners and dragged the driver to the police station. However, fortunately for the driver, another rider in the cab came to his defense pointing out that the person who had made the complaint was the one at fault.
UberPool rider rules
- The rider needs to enter their destination when they request the trip, so the app can match them with other riders heading in the same direction
- Each rider can have only one destination and they can't change their pick-up location or destination after the request
- The average time added to an UberPOOL trip is less than 5 minutes
- Each UberPOOL rider can bring one additional passenger along
- When the rider finds a match, they get notified of their co-rider's first name
- UberPOOL riders cannot prearrange a trip, since sometimes their best match may be with another drive-partner
The increasing competition hasn't made things easy for drivers. In Hyderabad, Uber and Ola drivers went on a strike, protesting a drastic drop in their incomes. Telangana State Cabs and Bus Operators Association (TSCBOA) has made the accusation that their drivers have been manhandled at Ola and Uber offices.
In November, cab drivers in Guwahati went on a strike for similar reasons. Uber has had issues globally for not treating drivers as employees but as partners instead and thus getting away without offering them the compensation mandated by law. However, a UK court ruled last year that Uber drivers should get all the employee benefits. The drivers are fighting Uber in court in the US as well.
While both Uber and Ola are upbeat about growth, driver communities in smaller cities have been in a constant state of worry about earnings. Many Indian startups have wrapped up operations in tier-two towns as they saw no growth.
Both Uber and Ola need to put drivers at ease with better training and feedback mechanisms. Drivers also need to be informed and trained about how to use newly introduced features. While Ola does have a 24 x 7 support to assist drivers, Uber just has an on-app support which is not necessarily of much help at all times.
Lastly, as customers, it is important to show empathy towards drivers. If it makes things easier for them, it would be great to help them out with any confusion with the rules or the technology. It is the responsibility of both, the company and the customer, to ensure that service is top notch.