Taxi and Auto drivers in Mumbai planned a strike starting from 29th August to protest against on-demand hailing services like Uber and Ola. Through my occasional discussions with cab drivers and very rarely with Rickshaw drivers, I always feel the hostility they keep in their minds against the drivers who joined with these Apps. To begin with, I do not personally support either App based services or individual cab or Rickshaw drivers. As an individual, I use what is convenient and cheap.
I would like to share an incident that took place a few days ago. Our flight landed at Pune airport around six in the evening. I had parked my car in the office just a mile away from the airport. We had to rush to the office to pick my car and then rush to the crematorium to get the last glimpse of an old, loving lady who had passed away while we were on flight.
Since the distance is short, instead of a cab, we plan to take a Rickshaw. All the rickshaw drivers demand a sum above 100 whereas reasonable fare would have been Rs. 30. An Ola couldn’t have costed more than 80 rupees. We prepare our mind to pay 60, double of the fair fare to any Rickshaw driver. Unfortunately, none of them is willing to come below 80. We simply start walking; not because the additional bucks are a burden on our pocket but simply because we dislike this attitude. After we walk further, we finally get a rickshaw driver who is willing to charge us as per the meter.
It is again and again proven that products or services fail due to the attitude of people who run them. On one side, we have Rickshaw drivers who deny to accept passengers even if they are willing to pay twice the fare. On the other hand, there are rickshaw and cab drivers who feel as if they will starve to death due to lack of business as more and more people are opting for App based rides.
Disruption is easiest in the fragmented marketplaces. In monopolies, disruption rarely happens. Uber, Ola and other ride hailing Apps targeted a right sector- which is highly fragmented and offers a pathetic user experience. What should wise rickshaw or cab drivers do to safeguard their future?
There is only one thing which can save the future of Rickshawallas – offering more value than the competitors. A rickshaw has numerous advantages over a cab- it is inherently cheap and hence, can promise lower fares if a minimum engagement rate is attained. It is compact and hence, can offer a speedy commute and is much easier to park. Integration with solar energy is far more feasible for a rickshaw than a cab. Using technology, a rickshaw can be made as safe and convenient as a cab. It is a choice; whether they want to unite to protest against competitors or they want to unite to offer a better service.
Among many other sectors, transport is the one which needs reforms badly. Over next 10-15 years, the changes in this sector would be beyond our imagination. Considering the automation and advances in the self-driving technology, the number of people depending on driving as a profession is bound to come down sharply. Ola, Uber and other App based services is just a mild shock; the major one will come when the entire transport sector is reformed and self-driving cars are running on streets.
If I were a rickshaw driver, I would leave aside all the unions and other things that prevent me from upgrading with the technical advances and offering the best service.
Can’t you see? Over the period, technology has systematically freed us from some of the biggest influences on our hearts and heads- from religious orthodoxies to nationalism.