It is an important day in Kiran's life - he has an interview scheduled in Delhi. He has booked the 7 am flight from Bengaluru, and a cab to the airport at 5 am.
He gets ready by 4.30 am and calls the assigned cab driver's number. There's no answer. He calls twice, thrice, four times - still no answer. It is 4.45 am when he calls the cab helpline. The sleepy voice that picks the call, after listening to him, gives him the number of another driver. This driver refuses to serve Kiran’s request claiming that he is far away. Finally at 5.05 am, Kiran hesitantly wakes up a neighbour and requests him for a drop to the airport, and is relieved when the neighbour agrees. Though he starts 10 minute late, he reaches the airport on time.
A City Taxi cab parked under the Belandur flyover. Pic: Kedar Nadella
Problems aplenty, commuters dissatisfied
But all travellers are not as lucky as Kiran - there are instances of people missing flights because of cab delays. While attractive price offers make people opt for a particular cab service, the level of satisfaction among them varies from case to case.
A good pointer to customer satisfaction for a given cab company are the comments that folks leave on their social media platforms. George Joseph, a disappointed commuter, says on the Ola Cabs Facebook page, “I booked a car and it did not turn up on time. Called the driver at the number they provided and he had switched off his phone. When we called their number, they said an alternative car would take another half an hour. Never call them thinking they are cheap.”
The major complaint has been that the drivers don't land up to pick the early morning customers, though there are other issues of overcharging, bad behaviour etc too. This, in effect, nullifies the image that some cab companies cultivate by competitive pricing strategy. Tanmay Gupta, a customer of Taxi For Sure, following an incident where he almost missed a flight, says on their Facebook page: “This experience taught me one thing for sure - that a cheap option might look good initially, but when you have something important and time bound, always look for a professional and established operator.”
Meru Cabs and Easy Cabs pages too are filled with customer posts stating their experiences, and more often than not, they are negative. While most complaints across fora are about cabs not turning up on time, there are a significant number citing driver indiscipline, unsafe driving, over-charging and terrible customer service from the call centre too.
Why do cabs show up late?
Reason 1: The drivers are exhausted
Here is the major reason for delay or no-show for morning pickups: sometimes drivers are too tired to service the request. A driver who has slept after a hectic day is simply unable to wake up early in the morning, though he might have agreed to serve the customer.
Most taxi operators give drivers the option of logging in and out of the system as per their choice. According to a driver on the rolls of Meru, the company has recommended that they stay logged in to the system for a minimum of 12 hours, though he insists that this is not a hard and fast rule.
Incentives: Only for the lucky!
The more the number of trips, the more the incentive that the driver gets from a certain cab operator. For five or more trips per day, a driver gets Rs 500 as incentive, for eight or more trips he gets Rs 1,000 as incentive. The incentive is Rs 2,000 for 12 trips and above.
Strangely, the distance covered by the cab driver is not taken into consideration. Long trips that take more time are considered as single trip. While a lucky driver can get more short trips and therefore, more incentives, an unlucky driver can get long trips that take more time, and hence will not be able to make the required number of trips to earn the incentive, or will have to work extra for getting the incentive.
Drivers end up getting into rat race to get more incentives. Consequently they go for extra trips even when they are tired, which affects their continued long term performance.
Note: This phenomenon is specific to one cab operator. Citizen Matters did not check with other operators about similar schemes.
An Ola cab driver, who did not want to be named, says there are drivers who put in over 16 hours a day, and make over Rs 70,000 a month. He however adds: “What is the point of making so much money if they don’t have the time to enjoy it, or if they have to pay hospital bills?”
Reason 2: Drivers do not make enough
In the past, drivers were earning as less as Rs 5,000 when employed by individuals and about Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 as independent car drivers. Many of them have shifted to working on the rolls of taxi operators, where on average they make anywhere between Rs 30,000 to Rs 60,000 a month, provided they agree to putting in long working hours. While it is true that the take-home of cabbies has increased, it is the case only for those drivers who own the vehicle themselves.
Meru Cabs and Mega Cabs own a fleet of cars. Initially when the city saw the cab boom, there were schemes in which a person could invest Rs 30,000 and get the car, while rest of the money would be put in by the cab operator. The arrangement was such that every day, one had to give a certain amount to the cab operator, and after three years the ownership of the cab would be transferred to the one who invested Rs 30,000.
While these operators took care of maintenance of the vehicle previously, that responsibility has been passed on to the drivers now. In addition, they also have to give a daily commission to the operators.
G Anand is an independent driver, who used to work with Meru. He says, “In addition to paying a daily commission of Rs 1,500, I had to take care of fuel expenses and vehicle maintenance. So I would end up taking home only about Rs 400, and this was after working for 16 hours in the day. Now I make about two trips a day and am making as much as I was with Meru. But I am fine with it since I can choose the number of hours I work and I am not constantly tired.”
According to an employee in Ola’s Operations team, an average driver can make an average of Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 a day. After deducting fuel expenses and car maintenance, he finally takes home anywhere between Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 a month. While this seems to be a sizeable amount of money, it works out only if the driver owns the vehicle and has finished paying up the EMIs for the same. If he is yet to clear the payment for the vehicle, his take-home is reduced further.
Reason 3: Traffic problem
Though this seems like an excuse, it is in fact true most of the times, in a city where traffic moves at 9 km per hour during peak traffic time. However, this is not to deny that there are cab drivers who cite this as the reason while the real reason might be something else.
Anand Subramanian, Director- Marketing Communications, Ola Cabs, says that most taxi operators factor in for the additional time required to traverse a distance, based on historical data. Still there are unforeseen delays sometimes which ultimately result in cab driver not landing up on time.
Sometimes some drivers are sensible enough to say they may not make it. Maria Mathew, a banker says, “I have used the apps where the operators are charging a lower fare. However, at least thrice, I have had drivers calling me after I have received a booking confirmation and on finding out my location, have requested me to cancel the booking and rebook, as they are too far away.”
Reason 4: Receiving the booking information late
When the entire booking mechanism is dependent upon the GPS and phone, any problem with the driver’s phone, such as not having the mobile charged, or not paying the bill, can cause this problem. It might also be a problem or error from the section that handles interface between customer and the cab company, or a result of technical issues with the booking software.
A post on the Taxi For Sure Facebook page by a disgruntled customer, Vivek Kapoor reads, “I had booked a cab around 12 hours prior to my pick up time for the airport. So, my driver’s details should have been sent to me 30 minutes prior to the pick up. That didn't happen, I had to call them up. And to my surprise, the agent tells me that due to a technical glitch, the pick up time has been delayed”.
Another commuter, Nitin says that he did not receive a message with the driver info, and he had to get in touch with the Ola call centre to get hold of the driver’s number. When he did call the driver, the driver stated that he had no idea about the booking. He once again called the call centre to enquire and they stated that there was a system error.
A driver with Ola stated that when he is aware that there are technical glitches with the booking mechanism on his phone, he flags it to the grievance cell and they ask him to visit the office so they can rectify it. He also mentioned that if there is a problem with the device, Ola replaces it.
Reason 5: Problems with the vehicle
Assuming that a vehicle is on the go for 16 hours a day, there is not enough time to put the vehicle for maintenance or service. This sometimes can result in vehicle break down just when an important trip is due.
Sridhar, an independent cab driver, says, “More often than not, drivers do want to service a request and it is only under inevitable situations like an emergency or a breakdown that they show up late."
However, another driver with Meru stated, that there are drivers who cite problems with the vehicle when they are sent a booking request that they do not want to service.
How are cab drivers held accountable?
Most taxi operators claim to have a strict policy when it comes to errant drivers. If a booking has been sent to a cabbie while he is on duty, he is obligated to service the request. A supervisor at Ola said, “If drivers fail to service a booking request, they are penalised. They are also given warnings. They are not given duty for a period of time. If there are repeated offenses, their services are terminated.”
Ravi D R, an Ola driver however stated, “If there is a complaint they do call us and check what the issue was. If it warrants it, we apologise to the customer as well. But there is no question of them fining or penalising us; no driver will stick around if they start doing that.”
Binod Mishra, Executive Director, Mega Cabs, says, “It rarely or never happens that a driver doesn’t show up. In the worst case, even if it happens we always reach out to the customer soon. If any driver violates our policy, we take appropriate action.”
However, there are times when there does not seem to be any action from cab companies in case of their own inefficiencies. Milind Chalisgaonkar, a management consultant, was at the receiving end of horrible service. For a ride to the airport, he was put in touch with four different cab drivers. The driver who finally picked him up came half hour late. Post the ride, when he called up to share his feedback, he received a message that said they would arrange for a call back. Milind is yet to receive the call.
This is in contrast to Subramanian’s claim that on receiving negative feedback, the company arranges for a call back within 24 hours and takes appropriate action. Milind adds, “I plan to lodge a complaint with Ola. I’ll give Ola a chance to rectify their errors; if they don’t, I might just go to Consumer Court, because I feel quite cheated.”
Do cab companies try to keep drivers happy?
Most cab operators do not offer additional benefits to the drivers like Provident Fund, Health Insurance etc like employees of companies would normally be entitled to. However, a driver with Meru did state that they have accident insurance to the tune of four lakhs.
Ola awards incentives to drivers based on the number of trips they make per day, provided they do not receive any negative feedback from the customers. They are awarded Rs 500, Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000, If they manage to make five, eight and twelve trips in a day. Ravi D R, a driver with Ola says this amount is credited to their account within 48 hours.
Subramanian says that drivers with Ola undergo rigorous training before they are taken on board. This includes sessions on how to address the customer, how to dress, lessons in etiquette, what not to do, how to use the device, how they can maximise profits, in addition to prerequisites such as knowledge of routes, road safety etc. The training is conducted over a day.
Mishra adds, “Drivers are our growth partners. We always try to give our drivers the best working environment, better connectivity with the management, a grievance cell to address their various problems, good training and an attractive pay package. This is all in order to keep them happy and more accountable.”
These companies also claim to be looking to empower drivers further. Mishra states that Mega Cabs has an innovative policy of that makes the drivers ultimately own the cars, giving them a sense of ownership and pride in working for the brand.
Subramanian says that Ola organises a driver mela that puts drivers in touch with car manufacturers and financial institutions. They are offered attractive discounts on cars by the manufacturers and various loan options from the banks. These melas also act as a means of getting more drivers on board.He adds, “At the end of the day, we are trying to create a healthy eco-system here. One where our app acts as a liaison between drivers who have services to offer and customers who require the service”.
What can cab companies change in their operations?
- To keep customers happy, taxi operators should seriously look at their customer grievance mechanism and put measures in place to curb inefficiencies.
- Taxi operators can perhaps convey the action taken on the complaints, to the customer.
- With respect to drivers, operators need to create a healthy and accountable working environment.
- Limited working hours and insurance facilities for drivers would enhance accountability among the drivers.
- Taking the workload of a particular driver into account before assigning pickups - for example checking the number of hours put in by the driver before assigning an early morning pick up, could be a great step in ensuring that drivers putting in long hours, don’t end up getting early pick up requests.
- Being realistic on targets for pick up, say, accounting the average speed of a vehicle before assigning a vehicle to a customer can help eliminate the problems arising out of traffic jams.
- Incentives could be based on the number of kilometers put in, instead of number of trips.
- Introducing customer rating for cab drivers and making it public will help ascertain if customers want to go ahead with the driver they have been allotted. This could also help keep a check on the behaviour of drivers who are rude or over-charge or are late intentionally.
Be prepared to face the situation
From the point of view of commuters, it is better to be safe than sorry. Here are a couple of tips that you, as a passenger, can keep in mind if you choose to commute by cabs.
- In case you have an early morning flight or need an early pick up, book in advance with a trusted cab service provider.
- Wake up early, call the driver and ensure that the driver is awake and will reach you on time.
- Always have a backup plan ready in case of cab not arriving/ vehicle break down. Factor in some buffer time as well.
- There are informal networks of trusted drivers that you can rely on too. These typically work on word of mouth. You could ask friends and colleagues if they are aware of such networks in your area.
- Make use of public transport, like buses or railways, wherever possible. BMTC has good number of airport buses round the clock, the schedules of which can be seen here. However you need to start a bit early if you plan to use public transport.
- With respect to fares, especially with operators offering cheap fares, keep in mind that there could be additional charges as well. Ola for instance, charges Rs 50 during peak hours (7 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 7 pm). So if you are looking to travel a short distance, say 4 km, it would make more sense to take an auto.
- In case you are at the receiving end of a rude operator at the call centre or an errant cab driver rude, please ensure you flag it to the operator. Even if the company gives a warning, it will hopefully serve to remind them that they cannot get away with behaving badly.