What drives the men at the wheel?

Taxi aggregators have significantly improved the commuting experience. But have they made a difference to those who drive them? Read on

As a customer, when you want to book a cab, all you do is reach for your mobile and open the Ola or Uber app. But what happens at the driver end, what systems or processes are set in motion? Here’s how the taxi aggregator system works if you are driving customers around.

Signing up and earnings

 The process of attaching your vehicle with a taxi aggregator is very simple. You fill in the required forms and submit documents for verifying ownership. After approval, a training session is conducted on using the mobile application device, and dealing with customers, among other things.

 There are different schemes through which drivers can earn money; one, the Minimum Business Guarantee (MBG) scheme and two, the Rider’s Fare Amount (RFA) scheme. In MBG, the number of trips that have to be made per day is fixed as the target whereas in RFA the amount collected per day is the earning. For instance, in Uber, if you reach the target of 15 trips per day you will be paid ₹5,750 for that day. That is the daily gross salary. Under the RFA scheme, the driver has to earn at least ₹2,150 per day. A commission of 20 per cent is taken by the taxi aggregator plus tax. Other charges such as mobile device rent, when applicable, are also deducted from the gross payment. The net earning can be approximately ₹4,000 per day for a gross earning of ₹5,750. The driver has to deduct the cost incurred on fuel, vehicle maintenance and personal expenses to arrive at his surplus.

 The taxi aggregator decides which scheme should be allotted to the driver and this scheme allotment differs every week. Merlin, an Uber driver in Chennai who has been under the RFA scheme over the last few weeks, says, “Achieving the target under the number of trips was easier when compared to achieving it under the RFA scheme. I will have to go for more number of trips, say, 17 to 20, instead of the fixed 15 trips to reach the daily collection target of ₹2,150.”

 With increase in competition, fares have been slashed to as low as ₹6 per km, in case of UberGo or Ola Micro. So, the MBG could be preferred by drivers compared to the RFA scheme. “But the scheme allotment is not in my hands, it is automatic. Every Sunday, I get a message about my driving scheme for the next week and I hit the road with a plan for that week on Monday,” says Merlin.

Flexi working hours

Unlike other professions where you have the fixed 8 to 10 working hours, these drivers have the entire 24 hours of the day open for work. They need to achieve the scheme target within this 24-hour window (4 am to 4 am in the case of Uber and 12 midnight to 12 midnight in the case of Ola).

Rajni (name changed on request) says, “I start my day at 5 am and drive till 11 am. I go back home, sleep, take complete rest. I start again at 5 pm in the evening and complete my 15 trips by 10 or 11 pm.”

“The 24-hour window gives me the leeway to finish my household work during the day. Even if I begin my drive in the afternoon or early evening I will be able to reach my target before 4 am the next day,” Rajni adds.

Operatorship

The taxi aggregator is not only for individuals but also offers a business opportunity to those who own a fleet of cars. Ola provides the operatorship tag for those who attach more number of vehicles under a single name.

Sivachandran and Sendhil Kumar, partners in Seema Danasri Cabs, Chennai, own an operatorship with Ola. What benefits does operatorship offer?

“The frequency of trips allotted is more for us and our drivers can attain the daily target even while saving two-three hours when compared to an individual driver.”

Also, they say that the incentive received for referring a new vehicle is more for them as well as the new entrant compared to joining the taxi aggregator through just another individual. That is, if a person having operatorship refers a new individual to Ola, then both the new entrant joining Ola and the person with operatorship will get an incentive of ₹5,000, whereas this referral incentive amount is just ₹1,000 for an individual without the operatorship tag.

There is also a dedicated relationship manager for those having an operatorship. “In case of any issue, we directly go to our relationship manager and sort it out. Thereby, we save on time wasted in waiting in queues,” say Sivachandran and Sendhil. They started with a single vehicle. Impressed by the growth in the business, they started building a fleet. Today, they run around 25 vehicles under their operatorships. “We pay the drivers on commission basis. However, the net amount earned by our drivers per month will be the same as other independent drivers since the fuel and vehicle maintenance expenses are borne by us,” they add.

More family time, more money

 Rajni was working as an air-conditioner mechanic before he learnt driving with the help of his brother and joined a travel company. Merlin was also working with a travel company earlier. As the taxi aggregator concept emerged in the major cities, hitting the travel business, they quit their jobs and are now driving for the taxi aggregators. “Life as an a/c mechanic was tiring and the pay was very low. Now I can easily earn a net amount of ₹12,000 a week (₹48,000 per month), after deducting commission amount and fuel expenses. This is sufficient for repaying my car loan, home rent and other family expenses.” Indeed, Rajni takes care of his wife’s education expenses from this earning and also hopes to help his wife do a Masters in Business Management.

 Merlin says, “Apart from earning more money, I now get a lot of time to spend with my family which was not possible with my previous job.” It is evident from these people that in terms of earnings, they have made good progress. “On a personal front, nothing much has changed except that we have become a little busy. But in financial terms we have scaled up significantly from where we were,” add Sivachandran and Sendhil.

The other side of the coin

But there is a flip-side to the story too. Earning around ₹5,000 per day for 15 trips might look easy. But a driver has to slog for more hours to fulfil the daily number of trips. “The amount of time we spend, 12 to 15 hours, and the quantum of work done to meet the daily target is high. Even if we are paid more, we deserve it,” says Rajni.

In addition to this, other criteria, for instance, that the driver should not cancel any trip allotted to him or even a single complaint from a customer in a day will result in the driver losing a part of his pay for the day, adds to their worries.

The driver community faces other hardships too, like irregular meal timings, health-related problems due to eating out and stress due to long working hours.

Also, lack of basic amenities in the city is an issue. “We spend 10 to 15 hours on the road every day. But it is very hard to find a public toilet and that is a major problem,” grumbles Rajni.

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