Why Uber may self-decimate in Mumbai?

It is no secret that I am an Uber fan. I’ve admitted as much in the past. I’ve used their services in various parts of the world, but most of my interaction with them has been based in Mumbai and Delhi. And lets say 70% of my rides with Uber have been in Mumbai, 20-25% in Delhi and the rest elsewhere. While I can compliment Uber for running a great show in Delhi, I think they will sooner than later be self-decimating in Mumbai.


Uber likes to be known as a technology company. Hence, they claim they operate the backend of a network of cars across 100 cities, where I demand a car wherever I am, and the chauffeurs who have the smartphone apps on their phone, and are closest to you, accept your ride and drive towards you to pick you up and get you across to your destination. Their cars are not the regular taxis, but commercial limo operators. The transaction is cashless, Uber gets to put the charge on your card, and they pay the chauffeurs periodically after taking their cut.

Uber was my answer to the problem of getting from A to B place in Mumbai, where I don’t own a car because I hate the traffic enough to have depended on alternate commute modes for the past 10 years. When reliability from Ola turned into an issue, I never went back to them. Uber came through earlier in this year in Mumbai, and I just started to use the app everyday for my commute to and from the office, airport or any reasonably long distance for me.

Now, firstly, Uber’s claim for on-demand service in Mumbai has not entirely been true because their ETAs are still way off target. They may claim a time for 20 minutes on the app, but the car may actually take 40 minutes to arrive, and if you cancel a car anywhere beyond the first 3-4 minutes, they charge you an INR 200 cancellation fee. However, if the car arrives late, they won’t make it up to you. The house always wins!

See, Mumbai is a peninsular city, surrounded by the seas on three sides. Most arterial roads go north to south or vice-versa, and logjams are common. The precise reason for me to have not bought a vehicle and used taxis most of my life here.

Secondly, they are renting commercially licenced cabs and chauffeurs from other travel service providers in the city, and paying them for the hours and kilometres logged on their cars. The drivers seem to be going through a basic course, but in the blind quest of expansion, they are not going through the training as well. As a result, these guys don’t know how to even use the app properly. Over the days, I’ve seen chauffeurs arrive at wrong locations, accepting rides by mistake and not turning up, putting up the trip meter at their own whim, sometimes forget to put it on/or off and so on with the customers.

With no helpline existing, of course, customers have no option but to write to Uber and wait for them to respond to these issues. I’ve had to wait days and weeks sometimes to hear from Uber Mumbai. So, the issues here, are untrained chauffeurs who don’t know how to read maps and the sucky customer service. When Uber charges a premium (I pay a double price as compared to the Black/yellow Mumbai cab in most cases), I expect their customer service team to be on top of their jobs to resolve issues on a speedy basis, not in a tardy fashion it is at the moment. And if 2/10 interactions turn sour, I can’t even imagine how the months ahead will look like. And yes, they don’t bother looking at their twitter feed for days, and then give corny responses to serious questions.

I can sort of sympathise with the chauffeurs to an extent. A guy who earns about 100-150 USD for a month, does not use an iPhone I guess. You can teach him how to use one, but it is your job (I’m looking at you Uber), to make sure he/she is comfortable with the app and its features before putting him on the road. While customers get an air-conditioned ride and the cab rental companies are getting paid, Uber for sure forgot to include the chauffeurs as a centre piece in their Mumbai eco-system. Chauffeurs sometimes complain they don’t even have a few minutes through the day to themselves, increasing stress on them, and their life is worse off after Uber because they’re continuously on the go, unlike private assignments.

The third issue is the business model itself. Car rental companies are being paid money to get the high-end cabs on the road, and Uber is clearly losing money on these. Now, you pay the same amount whether you get a Toyota Innova or a BMW Series 7 to drive you around. I totally get it that they are trying to establish themselves right now and are willing to pay out of pocket to make it a habit. As someone who builds businesses for a living, I also know that this works half the times. But how long will you fund losses is what I wonder.

Uber has also made it a point to associate itself with every second event in town. Great technique to activate new customers, in fact I’ve myself partnered with them in the past to get my readers a few rides to sample their services. However, when you can’t address customer service issues, then there is no point scaling up so fast. Case in point, they were doling out free ride codes to customers who were signing up for meals with Restaurant Week India. There was no mention of same member not being able to use multiple codes. I booked 5 tables that week, and I had to pay and then go to and fro with Uber for a couple of weeks before they’d credit the amount back in my account.

These issues might just look like a crib, but are not just with me. I’ve introduced quite some number of people to Uber, and they’ve all come back and complained in Mumbai to me about the oh-so-not-awesome experiences last few weeks.

Maybe its time Uber looks up their customer service (riders and drivers both), before committing to further expanding in the city, or else, I feel they will self-decimate like Ola Luxury in no time.

What have been your experiences with Uber in Mumbai?

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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. Cannot agree more with you. I posted my Uber experiences ina separate of yours, which haven’t been pleasent off late. From being an uber fan Uber, I have started hating it and stopped using it completely. Its totally unreliable and customers have no recourse. Lastly, I wouldn’t call riding in Innova (which constitutes probably 90% of Uber’s fleet in Mumbai) luxurious by any means.

  2. Hi Shailesh,

    I am into car rental business and currently tied-up with Oswal travel. Kindly let me know your contact details as I am interested in being partners with UBER.


    Surajit K.

  3. @Shailesh, After our meeting, I was made aware of the Uber standard. Can we put in place a process of reconciliation everytime a car does not meet the Uber Mumbai standard. All I get is “Sorry, we are working on it”. Just last month, trips worth about INR 2000 have been sub-par, and I don’t see why the customer should pay top dollar for sub par services. Read this one below that just came in:

    “We make every reasonable effort to bring local, licensed and professional drivers onboard the Uber platform. While there is no policy that would allow us to provide a refund for the experience you’ve described, we’re focused on working with our driver operations team to make sure your driver is providing a quality service.
    As a company, we’re responsive to feedback and we’ll do our best to bring you the Uber experience and continue to assist you for a better experience.”

  4. Dude, relax!

    This is India.

    Try tracking down a driver who has been working 24, 48 or even 72 hours straight because his boss never arranged a substitute for him and/or his colleague never showing up?

    It’s an absolutely ridiculous situation here in Mumbai with drivers and employees in this class as well.

    You even stated that the salaries were so low they were pathetic…

    • @SuperFlyBoy I don’t believe in paying a premium for “Chalta Hai” attitude and sub-par service. if Uber can’t deliver Uber standards, they deserve to know.

  5. I agree with most of the issues you have pointed out, since I’ve been at the receiving end of quite a few of those myself.

    Having been excited about the service when they launched, it is especially disappointing to deal with repeated problems, which are primarily irritating because they need to be addressed, not laughed away.

    As far as ETA goes, that is way off anyway, and I’m not sure what happens if a driver arrives at the requested pick up point earlier than scheduled according to the app – I have had this issue come up numerous times, and if I am charged a waiting fee, it is not fair.

    Mainly, I’d happily be patient with them trying to iron out actual issues, if they would be proactive and responsive, rather than be glib – two days after the fact!

  6. @Ajay, allow me to look into this and we’ll have them resolved on priority. The team will be in touch via email for updates and resolutions.

  7. @Ajay, glad to clarify. You can expect the first contact from us within 12-15 hours. Standard issues should be resolved in the first contact. Where driver and rider feedback is required, barring unusual cases, the resolution time can be 24-36 hours. Driver re-training would be the order of the day for those who need it (and based on rider feedback). Hope that helps.

  8. Ajay,

    First up, thanks for taking the time to put this together. You’ve pointed out some of the challenges of introducing Uber to a city like Mumbai.

    We’ve now completed three months of our operation in Mumbai and we’re pleased to see the positive response, including your support. Mumbai is Uber’s fastest growing city in Asia. This has brought about some teething pains. I wanted to take the opportunity to address your concerns, and provide more insight into how we’re dealing with some aspects.

    1) ETAs and Cancellation Fees

    Currently, we’re averaging a 14 min ETA in the city across all rides, and there’s further room for improvement. That said, as you have rightly pointed out, the geographically vertical nature of the city poses a complexity.

    ETAs are likely to shift during peak traffic hours and in highly congested areas. We monitor and analyse this data that helps us build/ finetune our operational strategy.

    Our cancellation policy can be accessed here – http://support.uber.com/hc/en-us/articles/201876416-What-is-Uber-s-cancellation-policy-. There are no cancellation fees if the rider cancels within 5 minutes of placing the request or if the driver is expected to be more than five minutes late from the ETA (at the time of request). I acknowledge that the waiver of cancellation fee is no remedy for an inconvenient experience and I assure you that every cancelled trip is observed and analysed for future improvement.

    2) Training and Customer Support

    Uber partners with fleets (who own cars and employ drivers) and individual owner-drivers. We take training seriously – the drivers go through a training session with the app before they get on the road. We’re cognizant that some drivers, being new to the system, need to get up to speed with various technical challenges and we’re helping them do that. Rider feedback, as you have provided here is critical.

    Customer feedback and support is extremely important to us and we’re admittedly below the standards we’ve set for ourselves. We’ve redesigned our processes internally to address this and I can assure our riders that we’ll only get better and that we’ll match and exceed expectations. Drivers are a critical factor for success in Uber’s ecosystem. Occasionally, customer service response times are slightly longer than customers desire but it is necessary to ensure we investigate and ratify both sides of the issue.

    We’re currently catering to pick-up requests in high-demand areas (https://www.uber.com/cities/mumbai) to provide a better experience to our riders. We’re focused on providing a great experience, and I can say that we will not compromise quality for the sake of expansion.

    3) Business Model

    Our objective is to provide a safe, convenient and reliable ride at all times. We partner with fleet owners and operators and individual owner-drivers and help them connect to riders via our platform. The additional benefit for owners and operators is the absolute flexibility they have in terms of using Uber. A lot of them choose to maximise downtime of their cars and drivers by being on the Uber system, ready to take rider requests.

    In Mumbai, we’re focused on mid-high end sedans – Corolla, Camry, Innova and some high end cars. Again, the main objective here being to provide a safe, reliable and convenient ride rather than being known as a ‘luxury car’ service. Uber is ‘Everyone’s Private Driver’ and our model will always adhere to that motto.

    Hope this addresses some of your concerns. I’d like to keep this dialogue open to help us engage with our riders better, improve our service levels and deliver what you expect of Uber.

    Thanks again,

    GM, Uber Mumbai

    • @Shailesh thank you for writing in. Can you also clarify what is the maximum time in which I should expect a ticket to be resolved, and also what is being done about geographically challenged drivers in your system.

  9. Totally agree with your diagnosis. Honestly, their twitter account feels like a college kid is in-charge. I do understand they need to maintain their “cool vibe” but you are a business at the end of the day and you need to find a middle ground between amateurism and professionalism.
    Secondly, I believe pricing for Innova’s needs to be different. I usually travel short-ish distances where for a distance of ~10km you pay an avg. of ~Rs.30/km (Which comes down to ~24/km for distances >25km). I understand paying premium if you have a high-end vehicle but don’t feel its justified for an Innova.The counter argument which is usually provided is that the premium is for the on-demand service they provide. But with the long ETA’s, I don’t think the on-demand premium is justified.

    Now what I usually do is plan my day a bit ahead and book an Ola (Availability of cabs on Ola’s on demand service is pretty poor so I do the normal booking). So far the experience has been pretty good (i.e. no cases of no-show, drivers are more aware about technology as well as roads)

  10. I have passed this blog post along to Garrett, the founder at Uber. Lets hope he reads it and improves the service in Mumbai.

  11. Thats really no different than it is here in America. The product here is really no better than standard taxi service and sometimes even worse. Their customer service is awful and from what ive heard, they are even less responsive to drivers than they are passengers. I’ve spoke to many drivers who have told me they made more money driving a standard taxi and were about to turn in their uber phone to return to cab driving. If they keep losing their quality drivers and loyal passengers they will be in a world of hurt. Especially with apps like zTrip and Gett growing at the pace they are.

  12. I’ve used Uber in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai so far. I loved the service in Delhi and the choice of rides that they have there but the quality & consistency of service dropped by the time I used them in Chennai. In Chennai I used Uber 8 Times in 14hours. The cabs were old Corollas & Cities except for one ride in a Camry & another in an Endeavor. Some of the drivers didn’t have a pleasing attitude or had poor driving skills in traffic. On one ride, I was charged for 40mins worth of riding when the actual ride lasted hardly 15mins (The driver was unable to end the ride on time due to some network issue – I’ve written to Uber Chennai 4 weeks back and they haven’t resolved the issue yet). Its high time that they get their act together before customers go back to their old trusted taxi provider.

  13. @SuperFlyBoy I am sure you’re getting all the high end cars then. Me, I get an innova most of the times, and those guys are on 7000 or whereabouts base pay. yes, OT may be there, but still, when you have to take care of a family in that amount in a city like Mumbai, you know it won’t be easy.

  14. There need to be some clarifications here.

    Most of the drivers I have used are making in excess of Rs. 20,000/- and up monthly. At the current rate of exchange to the USD, that is USD 350.00 or thereabouts.

    Our primary personal driver makes USD 265.00 per month – and that is without overtime or other benefits. I was also just quoted by a driver agency for a driver and they are also in the area of Rs. 13,000-15,000/- for a driver for 6 days, with either 10 or 12 hours of duty time.

    Further, Uber has never charged my credit card outside of my rides.

    I do agree that some drivers have issues with the GPS.

    I also have found *many* drivers having accepted rides, and have not moved from their locations, even while claiming that they have done so! I have had to wait for them to mobilize 20 minutes after accepting the ride – as we can track their car using GPS on our app’s map.

    I have found their customer service to be prompt and attentive to basic complaints, such as the above, so they probably cannot handle these intricate code-type incidents… (that I never even knew about! :p )

    I will still use them, but haven’t lately – as my family member has insisted on renting a tourist taxi (which I have been sharing/using at times when I would use an Uber) – and which is *much* more expensive – but to each his own!

  15. Nailed it. Have the same issues with them. Most drivers don’t know how to use GPS and find your address. Also, since OLA and Meru drivers are proper cab drivers, they speak a bit of English, which is great for foreigners like me. But since Uber seems to be renting off private individuals who then send their personal drivers, most of the guys I’ve encountered can’t handle anything other than Hindi (and Marathi/Gujarati). This is silly as I assume Uber would be a ‘go-to’ service for expats and visiting businesspeople. The only advantage that Uber has at the moment is that they’re available during peak hours in Bandra and the cashless transaction; two advantages that other companies can easily dissolve.

  16. Ajay, like I posted when this service was launched, I will never use it because I do not intend to provide them my CC details and then allow them to debit the same based on their whims and fancies. This model is not workable in India – look at flipkart – even they take CAsh on Delivery and this is a cab company

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