In the past few months, many Bengalureans have been raising issues of increased waiting times when hailing cabs from aggregators like Ola and Uber. The phenomenon is understandably more pronounced in peak hours and this is now leading to commuters exploring other modes of commute. In turn, this is leading to a loss of business for Uber and Ola, especially since Bengaluru is one of their major markets.
The situation is set to worsen if the Karnataka Transport Department maintains its hardline approach against shared cabs on these two platforms. On Friday, top officials insisted shared rides are illegal in their present framework and the state can make a change only with the approval of policy change by the centre. Contracts for taxi services only allow pick up and drop from point A to point B. Taxis would require a stage carriage permit to make multiple stops along the way, and currently, the state only gives these permits to government-run buses.
However, previous efforts to enforce bans on either UberPOOL or Ola Share have failed. Ola and Uber were not available for comment on whether they will remove their shared cab offerings from their apps for the city.
An increase in waiting time
Interactions with multiple regular Ola and Uber commuters established that average waiting time for 5-10 km journeys has more than doubled to 15-20 minutes in the past two-three months across the city. Both Ola and Uber declined to comment on the exact nature of the causes leading to this phenomenon and the extent of the drop in business.
An official working with one of the taxi aggregators told TNM, â€śThe average waiting time now is 17 minutes. Now with the increased cost of fuel and the number of congestions in the city, drivers are not able to make as much money as they used to earlier. The reason is the government coming up with a notification that caps the maximum fare to Rs 24/km for cars that cost Rs 5-10 lakh. That is the average cost of most cabs plying in the city. Since there is no incentive any more to gruel through the traffic in peak hours, there is a drop in the number of taxis during peak hour time.â€ť
â€śCompared to drivers in Hyderabad or Chennai, Bengaluru drivers are making 25% less than their counterparts, despite being on the road for 10 hours. Moreover, with Bengaluruâ€™s congestion, a driver in Bengaluru can take only six trips during peak hours of the day compared to 10 trips in other big cities. Our business is suffering a lot and we have lost 1,000 drivers over the past 2-3 months as drivers are not able to sustain themselves on our platforms,â€ť the source said.
Read: No easy exit as Ola and Uber drivers in India face spiralling debt trap
Why drivers are unwilling to accept some rides
Another source told TNM that the drivers exiting the system are going back to driving tourist taxis or getting into private contracts with companies for employee commutes.
Interaction with cab drivers in the city also pointed to the same reasons. The construction of the metro and other such large construction work have crippled the traffic movement further in the city, leading to lesser fuel efficiency and resulting in minor margins for peak hour rides.
Another top executive claimed that the issue for them is mostly restricted to the Central Business District due to the recent traffic restriction on Kamaraj Road.
â€śFor us, there are no problems in Whitefield or Electronic City. The 200m stretch being held up (at Kamaraj Road) results to traffic around the area being held up,â€ť the source said.
Drivers echo a similar view of the traffic in the area and are apprehensive about accepting rides in the area.
A driver, Santosh* said, â€śI do not accept rides within the Central Business District area during peak hours in hopes of making two-three extra rides in peripheral parts of the city.â€ť
â€śFrom Dell to Ejipura signal, a distance not more than 3 km, will take me 45 minutes to almost one hour due to the work being carried for the flyover. Itâ€™s better for me not to work in this area rather than to suffer losses,â€ť said another driver, Ravi*.
While Uber and Ola have a different number of downloads on the app stores, industry insiders say that just like drivers switch between Ola and Uber, an overwhelming majority of customers check both the apps at the same time.
Suman Ghosal, who commutes daily from Marathalli to Bellandur for work, said, â€śEarlier while going to the office, I would have preferred to use cabs than the regular bus due to the unpredictable weather in Bengaluru. But now even if I get an app-hailed taxi or auto, it would take ages to come. Instead, I walk down to the bus stop or negotiate with running autos.â€ť
There are others who have migrated to other ride-sharing specific apps like Bla Bla Car, Quick Ride and similar offerings. According to reports, more than 1.5 lakh people in Bengaluru choose to opt for carpool using apps while travelling within the city.
Another segment that is profiting from the current conundrum is the number of platforms that offer bike or cycles on hire for a short period, like Vogo and Bounce.
Shamil Puthukkot, another frequent Ola and Uber user, said, â€śI would pick up any of the available scooters or bike over Ola or Uber unless it is raining. With them, I donâ€™t have to wait for cabs to arrive. It is even more convenient if I have to run a couple of errands here and there before reaching my final destination.â€ť
A possible course correction
Pawan Mulukutla, an urban mobility expert, told TNM, â€śI think this is a clear indication that all of this is maxing out as they (Ola, Uber) are also bound by the traffic conditions. I think the next logical step is to integrate public and private services and for that to happen, we need open data to come in. All of them are operating isolated, so obviously, there will be better efficiency with all the information. And this is not restricted to only Ola and Uber but also to BMTC and metro.
Pawan states that in addition to integrating the public transport system, there is a need to bring in infrastructural changes to the city.
â€śThe second layer of efficiency is not to use similar vehicles for all types of commute. Then, we need infrastructure which facilitates faster movement â€“ there is not even a 500m long stretch in Bengaluru that is free of potholes or where there is no digging going on. Also, there are areas like Jayanagar which are very well connected with internal roads, while you have other areas like Whitefield, which are dependent only one or two major roads,â€ť he added.
He further stated there has to be supply-side management like stricter parking norms, which would mean lesser personal vehicle usage or a congestion tax, where you have to pay an amount to use your personal vehicle during peak hours.
â€śWe can also explore policies tried in other places in the world, where only a certain number of cars are allowed in the city. Sau Paulo in Brazil is doing something very interesting where they are telling Uber that they can travel only X kms in peak hours. And beyond this, they will be charged. This is an interesting model but this can only happen with data integration,â€ť he said.
*Names changed on request