I live in south Delhi and work in Gurgaon, it is nearly 25km of commute one side. I like several thousands of people have to make this commute everyday. Driving 50 km daily is not a big issue, however, the traffic congestion gets to you even before you have started for office.
There are options from company provided shared cabs to taking a metro ride to driving. I most often drive as my timing is not fixed for a company cab and the last mile connectivity of the metro is not that great. However, i do take a private taxi many times in a month.
Private taxi or radio cabs are a plenty in Delhi and many metro’s in India. One of the first to start was Meru cabs. They were good when they started — on call,clean cars, newspaper etc etc. Meru disrupted the existing model at that time. Over the years that model has failed and let me explain why. The cars that they provide are really old, they are broken, most of them smell like hell, we dont see any news paper except a magazine “the week” in some cars. Their payment mechanism is cash as the card machine most of the times does not work. Even if it works, the driver will be unhappy. All in all it’s a pain getting into their cab. One important aspect though is the availability of the cabs. 90-95% of the times you will get a cab. That part has been worked well by them and it’s highly unlikely that it fails.
Meru recently launched Meru Plus which is a bit expensive and gives one the flexibility to keep the cab, should one have to visit multiple places. However, these cabs even if they are new smell and have started to show how misused they are.Also, one does not get a seamless experience. In fact the experience is very similar to the normal Meru cab.
Enter UBER, the car ride service we desperately need.
I was waiting for Uber to launch in Delhi after they had already launched in Bangalore. Yesterday @pjain tweeted about the unavailability of Uber at Delhi airport and i was delighted . I so wanted to experience the Uber ride. First thing in the morning, i fired up the Uber app, pinpointed my location and it showed me a driver 20 min away. I clicked on book and thats it. The app asigned the chauffeur and it had details about him (name, car no, car type, his rating etc). I could track the cars location and time to my pickup point. It also allowed me to cancel my ride, share my ride with a fellow traveler, broadcast my ride . . .
My Toyota Camary reached and the chauffeur called to let me know. The arrival was a bit of an issue and i will write about that in a while. The car was not new, i guess maybe 3-4 years old. However, it was clean and well maintained. I was greeted by comfortable leather seats, bottled water, news papers, magazine and a very polite chauffeur. After telling him where i need to go, the ride was seamless. Even at the toll plaza i was not asked to pay, it was part of the bill that would be charged. We reached our destination, Ericsson office in Gurgaon. I stepped out, thanked him and done. He pressed a red button on his iPhone “ride complete” and i got charged automatically (When i registered i had to share my card details with Uber and they stored it on the app. I am not sure how that worked because in India as per guidelines, it is not allowed).
Here are some issues that I face with Uber. They are operational in nature and i believe will be ironed out —
– The chauffeur’s Uber app could not get him to the exact location of my pickup. He had to call me to get the exact address. Although he understood very quickly yet i, as a user, would not want to explain my location.
– The news papers were one day old. I would have been oaky with no newspapers than them being a day old.
– The magazine was also a month old. It was good read but current ones are a better bet.
– The chauffeur had to stop exactly for 2 minutes to get a permit. Ideally he should have had that on him. Again i believe an operational issue.
– They need to tieup with a better messaging provider. Maybe ACL Mobile or Value First, some one who knows enterprise messaging. I have still not received the code to authenticate my mobile. Also, i was 15-20 min into the ride when i got messages about my chauffeur’s arrival etc.
The key question now is how much did i pay to be driven by a well groomed chauffeur in a luxary car to my office ? The amount charged was INR 640 almost INR 80 more than what i pay in a Meru cab.The excess amount is peanuts as compared to the seamless experience that Uber offered. In case Meru gets its act together, which i severly doubt,i believe Uber has fantastic potential.
I am sure the naysayers will question their approach like having mandatory credit card details etc in the app, charging a small premium to a cost conscious Indian etc. However, I believe that they will have enough users who have the money and who don’t believe in status quo. Meru cabs was relevant 10 years back. Uber is now. I need my money spent well.
Now i am guessing which car will i get in the evening when i go back home 😉