Little money, long work hours: A day in the life of an Ola-Uber driver in Mumbai
The billboards promised earnings of Rs 1.5 lakh a month, says Deepak Gupta, 31. “I work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and I never made even half that.”
Gupta has been an Uber driver since 2016. We’re talking to him on Day 2 of an indefinite strike called mainly to protest unmet earnings promises. With him is his uncle, Mahinder Chaturvedi, 55. He too works for the cab aggregator.
Uber and Ola together account for over 45,000 vehicles and together are being accused by their drivers of slashing incentives so they can increase margins and offer lower fares to users amid increased competition.
Both men seem angry, and disappointed. “They sold us the dream of a cushy lifestyle,” Gupta says. “I thought I would save so much, I would be able to open a fixed deposit for each of my two sons.”
Things were better before, they say, more than once. “I ran an automobile spare parts business with a friend. We hit a rough patch and instead of trying to mend things with him, I chose this,” Chaturvedi says.
Initially, earnings increased. “We would get incentives like a bonus of Rs 6,500 for completing 14 rides a day. That extra that we earned from setting goals for ourselves was encouraging and usually went directly to my savings,” says Gupta. “Now we get offers like Rs 1,350 for completing 40 rides in 4 days, and even that doesn’t happen. We’re always asking each other, “Did you make any incentives today?” and the answer is always ‘No’.”
Chaturvedi had been so sure his earnings would soar that he took a Rs 5 lakh loan to buy a Maruti Swift, on EMIs of Rs 15,000.
After Uber’s 20% commission, he says he was making about Rs 70,000 a month.
“From that I had to pay the EMI… and fuel and car maintenance costs. I realised I was not doing any better than before,” he says. “And the fluctuating pay made me very tense.”
Chaturvedi sold his car last year, and now drives a vehicle provided by Uber. So does Gupta.
“I managed to pay off my loan,” Chaturvedi says. “But my earnings have not gone up because I now have to pay Uber every month for using their car.”
‘THEY MISS ME AT HOME’
The two men generally start their day at 7 am. “My wife insists I have a full meal of roti and bhaji, because she knows I will open my dabba only in the evening,” says Gupta. “She knows that I am always in a rush, trying to get more rides, so she doesn’t call me much either. We talk once, when I have switched off the Uber app to eat. If I’m lucky and I get back-to-back rides, I skip the meal and that call too.”
Traffic is so bad that rides take longer, and that affects earnings too.
“I recently completed 20 rides after driving for 16 hours at a stretch, but all I got in hand was Rs 1,300 because most of my rides were short. I got no bonus,” Gupta says.
Amit Jain, president of Uber India, states in his blog on the Uber websites that “Driver earnings have evolved over time and while some drivers do earn less than three years ago, we believe that driver earnings in India are attractive for the majority even after reductions in incentives and drivers’ costs are taken into account.”
Back home, Gupta says his wife and kids wouldn’t agree. “They complain that I’m never there, I’m always working,” he says. “We went to Varanasi last year for 10 days, and all I could think about was that I was still paying Uber for the car, and I wasn’t even earning.”
He will stay on strike as long as it takes, he adds. Because otherwise, “it feels like every day, we’re digging the same well, deeper and deeper, and the water is never enough”.