The good, bad and ugly of Uber’s new carpooling service

Rashmi R Padhy June 7, 2016 4 min

I have been an Uber driver for the last 10 days. More specifically, an uberCOMMUTE driver. The concept is simple– if you regularly drive from a point to another, you can pool your car with someone who needs a ride and make some money too.

I did not have a car earlier. When I got one, it took me about 45 days to get the ownership transferred to my name. This is mandatory before you can register as a driver for Uber’s carpooling service. So it took me a good 5-6 months after the service was first introduced to get on it.

Here are some of my observations, based on my experience so far. Disclaimer: My views are subject to change as I do this more.

It actually works

This works. I’ve tried many carpooling apps since 2012. Unfortunately, none of them worked. But uberCOMMUTE actually works. And it works seamlessly. A rider can simply follow the same process he or she would otherwise follow to book a taxi. When there is a pooled car available on the route, a request is sent to the driver (me in this case). Once I accept the ride I get to see directions to the rider’s current location and destination.

Meeting great people along the way, Great discussions

I like meeting new people, talking to them, pitching my startup concept, getting feedback from them and learning of their behaviour and habits. I found that people are also equally eager to talk. At times, they have been really curious to know why I drive an Uber. One rainy evening in Bengaluru, I had a 3-hour drive back home. And thankfully, I picked up a passenger who made good conversation. This is when you start appreciating little things like good company!

Kitna Deti Hai?

When you are a driver, you earn. But it’s a bit confusing with Uber. What is my actual earning? Uber charges customers Rs 100, my screen shows Rs 80 and I get paid Rs 60. Sometimes, it charges the customer Rs 50, my screen shows Rs 120 and I get Rs 70. This is super confusing. If this is confusing to me, I can only imagine how bad it will be for Uber drivers. No wonder, I see many drivers maintaining a notebook to write down details of a trip.

Without incentives, drivers might lose money

Cab problem in India is a tough one to solve. These rides do not really pay for your fuel or time. For a 15-kilometer, 3-hour ride, I got Rs 70. I now understand the plight of the regular drivers. If these incentives go away, or if they are lowered, drivers will lose money on every ride. That is a really bad problem to have.

Some things are beyond repair

UberCommute was launched on 3 January 2016. I joined a good 6 months after that. I assumed that there would a lot of people using the service already. Here are some stats which the company mentions on its blog.

  • Carpooling now makes up nearly half of all our trips in San Francisco and over 30 percent in Los Angeles.
  • In its first eight months in LA, passengers did over five million carpool trips–cutting the number of kilometers driven across town by 12.7 million and carbon dioxide pollution by 1,400 metric tons.

So I’m naturally surprised when all the riders I got were first time users of of the service. All 15 of them.

I’m really curious to know how many people have volunteered to pool their cars using this service. How many give rides regularly?

So why is all this ugly?

The ugly reality of Indian society is that we are hypocrites. And we have a deep rooted sense of entitlement. While everyone wants the clean air and less traffic, no one really wants to do anything about it. As if waiting for someone to wave a magic wand and make things better overnight. While everyone is happy sharing a video or article on carpooling, they are not really willing to go the distance to actually make it happen.

Secondly, I believe Uber has also failed here. While they promote Uber Commute a lot elsewhere, they have not really done enough promotion here in India. Is it because they do not want to annoy their regular drivers, or the taxi unions? Or is it because they do not care enough about the traffic condition of India?
In my opinion, everyone who drives a car should register to carpool. Everyone should play their role in reducing the city’s traffic and pollution. It is good that people are now paid to do that. Every bit counts.

PS: I have earned about Rs. 1500/- for this over the last 10 days. I am planning to donate it.

Also read: What a top media executive learnt from being an Uber driver for a week