#134 – Driving an Ola or Uber Better Than Working in IT Companies?

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Bangalore – The Silicon Valley of India, a city where lakhs of IT professionals come from all parts of India to shape up their careers. A city which now beams of having the maximum number of startups in India. Garden city and pensioners safe abode…. and also home for more than 60 lakh plus private vehicles roaming around the traffic congested lanes. The city gives more and more reasons for people to just stay and cherish each part of it every day. Hundreds of people might complain about the city infrastructure or the poor traffic management but it’s a true fact that nobody wants to leave Bangalore. After staying in Bangalore for more than 6 years, it is quite evident that I would always love commuting in a cab or my motorcycle. Commuting in Bangalore almost constitutes half of your day in Bangalore especially if you are staying more than 10km away from your workplace. Motorcycle riding almost halves my commuting time while cab riding gives you all the time in this world to contemplate and reflect on your life. This is the reason I love traveling in cabs. All you need to do is, just sit inside and then watch the city in its full madness. It’s wonderful to see how all of them work in a cohesive manner to blend in the chaos.

Last month I met with a small accident which made me take a cab for about a week. That one week was one of those moments where I got the golden opportunity to meet so many cab drivers. Each of them had a story. Travelling is always an escape for me to hear more stories. I derive my inspiration for each of my writing and photographs from people, situations, and incidents which happen when I am on travel.

Everyone who frequently books a cab in Bangalore knows that your days can be broadly classified into good days, bad days and the worst days. On a good day, you would get the cab within five minutes of your booking. The cab would not just arrive on time, but also would seamlessly arrive without any hiccups right in front of your house. On a good day, your cab driver would be in a very calm and peaceful mode. He would be generous enough to wait for you until you come out of your gate. He would even smile at you and share his story.

On a bad day, hmmm… things are not so bright. The cab service would take three to four attempts to find the right cab for you. And if you are lucky the price might be still feasible. The driver might be a little grumpy but manages to hold his cool until you reach your destination.

Then comes the worst days, where you, the cab driver and the co-passengers, basically everyone in the cab are frustrated. Everyone is on a surge price charge. Each one is in a hurry to reach their destination and cab driver cannot drive un-googled. Wow! It can’t get better than this. Two people would be already boarded in the cab when the third ride gets booked which is totally in the other direction. When the driver takes a U-turn and reaches half-way the passenger cancels the ride. He grunts and takes the cab towards your office but sees the neat line of cars all lined up one after the other until the end of the road. Inch by inch all of us take the suffering and finally reach office.

But one thing is very common on all three types of days. I get to hear stories on all days. I meet different kinds of people. Each one with a different pain and different background.

Like very recently, whenever someone used to say “The current landscape of jobs is really bad. What if they start massive layoffs?”. I used to flip my hair like this and tell “Wait, we can still drive Uber”.

All the hype and the ego was busted in one conversation with Mr.Murugan, a very senior Uber driver with Honda City. During the ride, three riders canceled the trips and all he could do was drive me from my home to office (7.8km distance) for just 60 rupees. With a frustrated face, he was cruising smoothly across all of Bommanahalli to HSR. There was a ghost-silence in the cab filled with a slight aroma of Godrej Air Cool Freshener. And suddenly I asked him “Sir do you think driving Uber or Ola is a very profitable business?” He broke the silence with a long sigh and answered. His answer was very insightful. Here is an excerpt of his 10 minutes chat with me.

Mr. Murugan said:

  1. Driving an Ola or Uber is not profitable now and will not be profitable on a long run as well.
  2. The ratio between the number of new cabs getting registered in Bangalore versus the number of vehicles actually required for Bangalore is disproportionate.
  3. As a result of this, there is always a fight.
  4. The only solution to mitigate this problem is to have more flyovers for long distance travelers and more metro lines.
  5. Also better drainage systems in place, so that even during heavy rains the routes are car-friendly.
  6. Passengers demand AC and other luxuries even for short distance rides which further shoots up their operational costs especially when it rains a lot.
  7. Road rage during peak hours of traffic plays a pivotal role in shooting up your vehicle’s maintenance costs. Blame it on the careless two-wheelers or our fellow whiteboard (white collared) car drivers who brush your vehicle off and vroom past you.
  8. Incentives will be transferred to your bank account only if you complete a minimum of 62 trips in a week. Which means one has to drive a minimum of 13 rides each day. Given the traffic and weather conditions, if you serially get trips spanning from North Bangalore to South Bangalore and vice versa, one ends up driving more than 16 hours to complete their daily target.
  9. Prolonged periods of sitting at one place and driving make you insane on a long run. Because you are not exercising your body enough. Varicose veins and other problems are always ready to knock at your doorstep.
  10. Even after driving with all the above-mentioned conditions, it is still a thankless job. Nobody appreciates you for your excellent driving skills nor your patience to risk driving your car to those off-road lanes.

But that’s not all. On a good day Mr.Murugan makes good amount of money within just 6 trips (if all trips are towards Airport) and returns home happily with huge smile on his face. Day by day these good days are being replaced by short and mind numbing trips inside the traffic inflicted lanes.

After this discussion, I still did not get fully convinced. I spoke to one of my other friends who has tried his hands on almost every kind of work. He added furthermore points to the agony of ever-increasing cabs in the city.

  1. The number of vehicles that ought to be ridden on the roads vs the number of cabs on roads is hugely not in sync with the demand.
  2. Cabbies are beating up someone and indulging in some violent activity. All thanks to the increased traffic and the frustration which comes as a package to it.
  3. Piles, Blood pressure, varicose veins, lungs and respiratory diseases – you name it and they are already half subscribed to those diseases.
  4. Google Maps plugged onto one ear, music on the stereo, grumpy co-passengers on the other side… And one small error and everyone is done for a lifetime.

After having this talk, I thought about the whole idea again and came up with two more not so good reasons to “not” become an Uber or Ola driver.

  1. Although today it might seem like a sustainable ecosystem, what if tomorrow the roles are reversed. What if, tomorrow with the invasion of big data and blockchain, the IT sector suddenly blooms and there is a huge splurge in the demand for developers and testers? Would you be able to switch career again?
  2. With lots of restrictions on how to incentivize what if the pricing system only turns out to be more tougher? Would you be able to stretch your day from a 10-hour grind to an 18-hour routine?

The grass always seems very green on the other side. In the search for an escape from your IT grind, do not trap yourself into something which might be nightmarish on a long run. Research the pros and cons of any career path before making a switch. Having known the dark side of the cab business, I would definitely think twice before flipping my hair and telling people that we can drive Uber.

#133 – AC Chalao Bhai!!!


Today as I was comfortably sitting inside the cab and watching the Kumbh Mela @ Bommanahalli Signal, the Uncle who was sitting next to me started ranting. I think ranting is pretty infectious. Very soon, the other Uncle who was sitting in the cab also started complaining about traffic, heat, dust, politics, roads phew…. the list went on and on and on…

Now trust me, this ranting was not something which happened then and there. These uncles had a problem with every damn thing in the cab. Sometimes its the AC not calibrated enough to give them Shimla like temperature and other times its the route Google Maatha was showing. Every two minutes, one was busy talking on the phone and the other constantly checking push notifications from various apps. This was the classic scene of “restlessness”. Why can’t people just chill and focus on the present moment?

Finally, when we crossed Bommanahalli signal, these Uncles were fighting who should have the first drop. It was then I took the headphones off my ears and closed my crime fiction book to cut the crap.

I gently leaned forward and told the driver, “Straight hogi sir, Nandu first drop” (Please go straight and drop me first). The cab driver diligently dropped me first, meanwhile the Uncles were giving me nasty stares.