Uber’s real business is trust: A driver’s story

4. Make me Trust, Believe and Act

Uber’s real business is trust: A driver’s story

When I recently booked a cab at Chennai airport, I was allotted one which was quite a distance away.

“Sir, I’ll come to the airport, but please don’t cancel the ride. I’m coming from 10 km away”, said M in a sincere voice.

On hearing his genuine plea, I decided to wait, trusting that he wouldn’t cancel on me! It turned out to be a good call.

I normally don’t get into the typical cab-driver conversations. But in this case, somehow I did… And his story was fascinating.

A tough professional life…

Life for M hadn’t been easy.

Aged about 40, this unassuming and genial guy (from Tamil Nadu) had spent about 8 years in Malaysia in the Electricity department. He found that (despite a higher pay) the cost of living was quite high, and decided to come back to Chennai.

On his return, he struggled to get a job. Somehow finally, a local guy appointed him as a driver after taking his driving license as ‘deposit’.

That local guy started delaying M’s payments. M got fed up and asked to be relieved with the Rs. 3K due to him.

The local guy’s response: “Forget that 3K, if you want your license back, you need to give me Rs. 4K.”

M was distraught. He went to the police, who were like: “He’s a known local goon … Why did you give him your license at all?”

Seeing no help forthcoming, M had to finally file a lost license complaint and get a new one. The cost? Rs. 4K. (He said, “I’d rather pay the government than that scoundrel”).

Then, M got a job as a driver in a local IT company. The salary was due by the 10th of every month. It was routinely delayed by 3-4 days and more, without explanation. He left that job too.

…and an even tougher personal one

If this sounds bad, his personal life had been even more challenging.

He’d been taken to Malaysia by an uncle (who’d kind of raised him after his dad had passed away).

Now the main purpose in Malaysia was making money and remitting to India.

In India, his Uncle used to handle his savings.

Later when M approached him about it, his uncle brushed him off (probably having blown away the money)…

M had had an arranged marriage. She turned out to the wrong person. They got divorced. Her family filed a court case (possibly frivolous). His family? Distanced themselves from him. He fended it off alone.

How to trust anyone?

What is happening here? A complete erosion of trust. There’s a lot of research on high-trust and low-trust societies, and how the lack of trust has an adverse impact on the economy and people. There’s a strong positive correlation between the income and trust levels of a society.

(Interestingly, in one of his early speeches – way back in Sep-2014 – none other than PM Narendra Modi mentioned trust-deficit as a key challenge in India… and vowed to tackle it. We still have a long way to go, as this later piece by Ravi Venkatesan indicates.)

Now, imagine if you were in M’s position… You trust others – whether these are strangers or close relatives – only to be cheated, again and again and again.

The justice system offers absolutely no recourse (in fact it increases your frustration).

Would you be able to trust anyone after such experiences? Would you even have the willpower to pick yourself up?

Admirably, through all this, M retained belief in himself… His lesson: He cannot rely on anyone else apart from himself.

And finally, something happened.

The tide turns (?)

Through someone, M got to know about the driving opportunity for Uber through the lease program. After an upfront payment, if he could pay the lease rental for 13 months, then the car would be his.

On the night he gave me a ride, he’d just recently gotten the car and driven it for 2 days.

On his first day as an Uber driver, he had earned Rs. 1.5K (net of expenses) and on his second day, Rs. 2K… Much more than his expectations!

“Sir, I’ve been driving from 8 in the morning till now (it was about 1.30 am at night) and – I’m not feeling one bit tired… In fact, I’m enjoying this.”

M’s life is slowly turning around.

Uber hasn’t provided the likes of M with a job.

It has given him the ability to trust again.


PS: After getting burnt by arranged marriage through known family circles, M looked out for a partner for himself through an online website. He’s now happily re-married.

Score one more for the trust-building ability of technology-based networks.

PPS: In hindsight, I’m glad I kept my end of the trust bargain by waiting for M, while he rode the 10 km to the airport.

Slowly, brick by brick, his trust edifice is being rebuilt

Photo by Ishant Mishra on Unsplash