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Lack of demand, virus scare keep Ola, Uber drivers off the road

Unless demand picks up, drivers will not come back on the platforms, say experts

May 27, 2020 / 06:57 PM IST
Cab aggregators Uber / Ola

Cab aggregators Uber / Ola

“I will earn Rs 10,000 in my village but will never come back to Delhi,” Arvind Tomar, who until recently drove for both Uber and Ola in Delhi, told Moneycontrol over the phone. On a recent morning, the cabbie packed his bags and left the city with his family to return to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.

A sharp drop in demand, high costs, coronavirus scare and call of home are keeping thousands of Ola and Uber drivers off the road even though the two ride-hailing services have resumed operations in many parts of the country.

Declining income was making it hard for Tomar to provide for his family of four, including two school-going children. Many of the incentives had been withdrawn and there were a lot of cabs around so fewer bookings. The lockdown was a hammer blow.

Like Tomar, hundreds of thousands of so-called migrant workers have become the face of the humanitarian crisis triggered by the viral outbreak, as they head “home” as their income dried up in cities.

ALSO READ: After Ola, Uber lays off 600 employees in India


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Before the coronavirus outbreak, Prashant Kumar used to drive his cab in Delhi and the neighbouring suburbs.

Unlike Tomar, Kumar, who has a family of six to take care of, he is staying put but won’t go back to driving. Not yet.

“There’s no point getting back to work without the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana opening up completely,” he said. Both the neighbouring states have imposed restrictions on the movement of people and vehicles as infections continue to rise.

With more than 15, 200 cases, Delhi now has the third-highest infections in the country.

“These used to be big-ticket bookings. Right now, barely a couple of bookings come and that too of people wanting to go and come back from the office. I can’t spend the whole day waiting for two rides,” he said.

At a time when work is hard to come by, Kumar sees no reason to pay Rs 300-400 for CNG from his pocket to drive to a central point and wait for passengers.

“I will end up spending more than what I will earn,” he said. Before the outbreak, an Ola or Uber drive took home around 25,000-30,000 a month.

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 The cab aggregators say they are doing their bit to ensure the safety of drivers and their income.

The two companies have created driver funds. Uber claims to have helped around 80,000 drivers.

“We’ve enabled over 10 million meals and served over 17,000 requests for medical support. The number impacted by the fund is many hundreds of thousands,” Ola said.

The Bengaluru-based company said a COVID19 insurance cover of up to Rs 30,000 has been extended to drivers and their spouses. They were also being provided app-based medical consultation.

More than 200,000 drivers had taken interest-free micro-credit made available to them. Over 30,000 drivers leasing vehicles from Ola were given a rent waiver, the company said.

In an email, an Uber spokesperson said the company was also creating parallel livelihood opportunities for the driver partners through free rides programs offered to the state governments and for services provided on UberMedic, UberEssentials and last-mile deliveries.

“Other forms of our support to drivers during these challenging times include a waiver of lease rentals, facilitating EMI relief, rolling out an additional insurance policy and offering drivers access to online medical services, such as DocsApp, at no charge,” he said.

This is not enough to bring the drivers back on the platforms, say experts. For that to happen, demand has to pick up but there is little clarity on when will commuters go back to hailing cabs in large numbers.

“It will be demand-driven. Unless the demand picks up, many will chose not to come back to this profession. If demand picks up early, supply will be a constraint because many of these guys have gone back. It is a very tricky problem right now,” said Rutvik Doshi, managing director of venture capital fund Inventus Capital.
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Priyanka Sahay
first published: May 27, 2020 06:57 pm
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