Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My experiences as an Uber Driver

Bangalore traffic is as bad as it an be. Bikers drive on anything that looks like a surface. This includes road, the footpath and the road dividers too. Car drivers drive alone. If ten folks are driving to office in a car, there will be ten cars on the road. It takes me 40 minutes for a 9 Km drive to work. And I am not exaggerating.

Recently, Uber did its bit to minimise number of cars on the road. It started 'UberCommute'. With this initiative, if I am driving to work and there's no-body else in the car, Uber will try to match it to customers who are requesting a cab to go to the same or a nearby place. I get a share of fuel cost, Uber gets a fee, rider gets a cab, and there's one less car on the road which means lesser CO2 emissions. Its an organised, yet ad-hoc way of carpooling.

Since it sounded interesting, I signed up for it. I did 7 trips as a 'Driver' for this initiative. Apart from reducing the carbon footprint and taking 7 cars off the road, there were other things that I experienced at a personal level.

With UberCommute I lost a part of my ego for good. These trips were the most humbling experiences of my life. Since I sound very filmy and cheesy when I talk about it, I better be brief. So here it goes:
  • For the first two trips, I had an uncontrollable urge to make it clear to the riders that I was not a driver by profession. When they spoke to me, I tried hard to somehow make them realise that this ride was not a regular taxi, and I was an educated, well-off software professional. In some corner of my brain was a clear social divide between the 'collars'. I tried to get that off with the forthcoming trips.
  • I opened the doors myself for the riders after reaching their destination. I helped them with their luggage. When I did this for the first time, I felt my self respect being crushed. I did not feel lowly by doing it in the later trips. Sometimes the definitions of ego and self respect get blurry. I feel that is when we need to challenge ourselves.
  • A girl boarded my 'cab' and mentioned that she had been searching one for more than an hour in heavy rains. She thanked Uber and she thanked me. Somewhere within me, I felt like Batman.
  • I dropped a guy, his wife and his mother to their home. His father came downstairs only to shake hands with me. He mentioned that Uber sent them an SMS about UberCommute and the driver not being a 'Driver'. I smiled.
  • Collecting cash was difficult. I felt extremely uncomfortable standing out of the car and waiting for money to be paid while the riders looked for cash. I refused the trip fare twice just because the rider did not have change and I did not want to get into the hassles of visiting nearby shops for change. I have still not been able to overcome this hesitation.
  • I learnt how to make small talk. I am extremely bad at initiating conversations. This was a great platform. Bangalore traffic, movies, not-so-famous IISc alumnis, SAP HANA, Big Data - the conversations were interesting with the riders. Most of them were interested in listening about my experiences with UberCommute, and were interested to try it themselves too.

I spoke about these experiences with different people. Some of them appreciated this concept. And some of them had their apprehensions. Some wanted to be only 'consumers' of this initiative, a few expressed an interest to try it out as a driver. There were many who discouraged being both. A colleague of mine was honest enough to admit that his self respect will not allow him to be a 'chauffeur' for a stranger.

In these 7 trips, I had extremely pleasant riders. Wiser people tell me that it just takes one bad incident to change a point of view completely.

I was recommended to not to continue being an UberCommute driver. In an elaborate discussion, I was made aware how a rogue passenger could easily strangle me, or simply carjack me - and then I would find myself lying near a sewer devoid of my car, cash and phone, maybe without a limb too.

I was also told of a possibility that I might be asked to drive to a relatively remote area and then would be kidnapped for a ransom. Or they might just kill me and sell my organs. What they say is scary. Somewhat filmy, mostly Savdhaan India-ish. They tell me that experiments should never be done at the cost of life. I have a family, so I should not try any such adventures.

Such is the world we live in. It is a pity that our minds have been hard wired for cooking up such scenarios so quickly. And they sound so convincing that one tends to hesitate to sign up for initiatives that have a better cause. We cannot shrug it off, because such incidents do happen.

I am not sure if I will continue to UberCommute as a driver. But whatever my decision be, I am sceptical if the world is a bad place or people simply exaggerate?