In October, 2019, the California-based company inDriver joined the likes of Uber and Ola for being the latest ridesharing and taxi app in the Indian market (initially introduced in cities like Ludhiana and Hyderabad, eventually spreading in other cities). With its 'choose your own price' model and promises to take only 5-8% of the driver’s commission, inDriver is supposed to be a worthy competitor.
But as inDriver marks its third year in India next month, why is it that Ola and Uber continue to be the industry giants? DailyO attempted to know more about the on-ground situation by taking cab rides from all three services and interviewing several drivers for their insights.
This is what we found.
Save on rides and offer your fare for every ride.— inDriver (@inDriver) July 6, 2022
inDriver might not take much from its drivers but does it really make a difference?
While most of these services don’t reveal the exact percentage of their own cut from the drivers, a consensus of Uber and Ola taxi drivers are of the view that both the services can extract 30-40% from them. inDriver similarly lacks official claims for the extraction but according to Californian media publication OZY, inDriver internationally extracts only 5-8%, an obviously low fraction in comparison.
Rahul, a driver who rides for multiple apps including Uber, Ola, and inDriver across the National Capital Region (NCR), scoffs when being told about this.
“InDriver advertises that it doesn’t cut any commission on the driver’s part. But it doesn’t make much of a difference for the driver because we earn almost the same as the amount we get driving an Ola or a Uber,” he says, while driving a rented WagonR on the Gurgaon-Delhi Expressway, a ride that this DailyO writer booked on Uber.
Rahul goes on to give a detailed hypothetical example to back his claim. “If I am earning 100 rupees from point A to point B, then Uber might take Rs 30, leaving Rs 70 in my hand. Now, InDriver will show you that the ride fare is Rs 70 instead of Rs 100 for the same distance. In the end, I will be paid Rs 70 and InDriver will not take their cut from me. But what difference does it make?”
From a customer’s perspective, InDriver does offer cheaper rates. For instance, a ride that would cost over Rs 180-200 on Ola and Uber was found to have an estimate of Rs 140-160 on this app. But, then again, how user-friendly (or even driver-friendly) is inDriver?
“The more the (not) merrier”: The apparent issues with inDriver’s “multiple choice” model
This is what Noida-based Amarpal Singh feels. Singh, again, like many other drivers, rides for numerous apps.
To get specific, booking a cab on inDriver is different from conventional taxi services because it offers the user multiple options post booking.
After installing the app, the load screen reads “Choose your fare”, hinting at the core concept of the app which will be clear a few seconds later. A basic location menu appears after this, offering a map and vehicular preferences much like any other ridesharing service. However, unlike other apps, inDriver would not show you established prices but give you an estimate. Once the user clicks on the “Find a driver” button below, then the “Hunger Games of drivers” begin.
For instance, if the recommended estimate is Rs 140, then you can increase or reduce the price by Rs 10 and other denominations of 10. Once you have finalised a price range, multiple drivers along with their car models and distances would start popping up on the screen. In approximately 15 seconds, the pop-up windows start disappearing. So, you have to pick a driver within that time.
The multiple options should ideally make booking a cab easier and more cost-efficient, but it doesn’t really create much of a difference for the drivers. An inDriver driver from Delhi, Vineet Kumar (name changed on request), feels that using the app is as confusing to him as it would be to a new user.
“When you book a ride on InDriver, you will be flooded with multiple driver options around the area. So, if three customers are booking a ride in the same area, I might appear on all of their screens. There is Rs 10-30 difference between the drivers and now, it is up to the customer to choose whatever suits them,” Kumar says, while pulling the handbrake of his white Swift Dzire. Stopping at a corner, he goes on to demonstrate the process on his own phone.
Even on the driver’s phone, he starts getting multiple customer options to choose from.
“Now, what if I choose this one customer because he is nearby but meanwhile, I can be chosen by another customer who might be farther away even if I don't want that customer. Now, for that other customer, his ride will be delayed as I will reject him. He will have to go through multiple drivers again till he finds the right fit. So, it is bothersome on both sides.”
As he turns the key to ignition and resumes driving, Kumar jokingly remarks, “Iss app pe toh lagta hai jaise ki humari boli lag rahi hai. (it feels like we drivers are being auctioned on this app.)"
Asking customers to cancel: Alternative ways to survive in a “commission-taking” economy
If you book cabs, autos, or motorcycles on apps such as Ola, Uber, or Rapido, chances are that you might have encountered a driver or two asking you to cancel the ride on your app. After you do so, they might still drive you to your destination.
This is a major alternative that several drivers resort to in order to obtain the ride’s full commission.
“One time, I picked up a customer from Noida. This guy had to rush to the airport and the fare was Rs 700. Now, I know for a ride as expensive as that, Ola would take about Rs 250 or 300 from my cut. So, I just told him to cancel the ride and pay me Rs 700 just like he was supposed to. That way, I get all of the 700 in my pocket.” says an Ola driver who wishes to remain anonymous.
Much like the other interviewees, even this driver added that he kept inDriver as his last resort, “It is inconvenient because booking a ride on it takes longer than usual. And with people always in a rush to go to their office or catch a flight, it is not suitable for the city crowds.”
The story of ApniCabs
When it comes to NCR and Punjab, another seemingly driver-friendly option that has propped up is the app ApniCabs. Much like inDriver, ApniCabs advertises itself as an app for the drivers for the low commissions that they charge from them. Starting operations in 2017 in Mohali, Chandigarh and Panchkula, ApniCabs has now ventured out in Delhi, Gurugram, Noida, and even Jaipur.
To quote the company’s website, “We treat our driving partners like our family, enabling them to earn up to four times more than our main competitors.”
A comparative graph on the website further shows how ApniCabs maintains the same EMI, insurance, and maintenance charges but its company commission rates are significantly lower. Can the company still make profits with this model? ApniCabs claims that they’re doing good for now and even aspire to spread operations to Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Pune, among other cities.
However, while travelling across the NCR, the proportion of drivers using ApniCabs is, of course, lower than Ola and Uber. Most of the cab-riders interviewed (some of whom also drove for ApniCabs sometimes) did not have many insights to offer about the Indian service.
“ApniCabs or inDriver. They sound all fancy with their low fares but it doesn’t make much of a difference for me. Again, I am not saying Ola, Uber is very helpful. It just comes down to what is the better option. And it just so happens that Ola and Uber are the better options no matter how much they take from my cut,” Vineet says, showing a laminated sheet of paper with a PayTM QR code printed on it as the ride ends.