Covid-19 outbreak: Hailing an Uber ride on day one of lockdown 3.0

Uber supported some drivers with a monthly pay-out of Rs 3,000 during the crisis.
The inside of an Uber cab looked much the same as before, more than 40 days after the San Francisco-based aggregator service had suspended operations across India following the virus outbreak.

Resuming business in orange and green zones on day one of lockdown 3.0, there was no protocol or drill to suggest it was a ride during extraordinary times, except that the driver patiently waited at the gate without making any hurry-up calls or asking for the destination.

The Uber app, idle for weeks, quickly connected to a driver with a premier cab in the permitted orange zone of Ghaziabad — one of the districts it was allowed to ply starting Monday. One had to travel within Ghaziabad or go up to a certain point in Noida, adjacent to Delhi (which is a red zone and out of bounds for any cab aggregator service). Gurugram, an orange zone, also saw these cabs ply for the first time during the lockdown. While Uber was on the roads, Ola is yet to gear up.

Ravi, the driver, did not offer a bottle of sanitiser to the rider. Nor did he advise wearing a face mask. When this reporter asked what Uber had done to ensure both the driver and rider were safe, he replied: “I sanitised the car myself.” Did the company help with chemicals? “No, I have it.” According to him, Uber is going to give sanitising kits to every driver in a day or two. In fact, such a message from the management has gone to driver partners already. Nobody’s quite sure on what the kit will contain. Will drivers have to pay for it?

He replied: “No, it will come free. There’s been a lot of donation to Uber from users.”

After a little prodding, Ravi said living had been a challenge for the past so many weeks, with no income, given the extended lockdown. Even now, the policy of allowing cabs to operate only in green and orange zones may not work well, according to him.

“People want to travel out of Ghaziabad and Gurugram mostly. How long can we go on with such limited service?”
According to Ravi and his counterpart Prakash — both nervous about how much the coronavirus may spread — Uber supported some drivers with a monthly pay-out of Rs 3,000 during the crisis. Not everyone got this amount though.

By now, this reporter had changed the destination a couple of times to keep travelling and get a sense of day one of Uber after the long break. Ravi wanted to know what the final destination would be, making it known that he wouldn’t be able to go to Delhi. Without much fuss, the reporter got off the cab after a 20-minute drive and an unusual conversation.

While one can’t be sure about the level of sanitising, this first ride during the lockdown was without any litter of chips packets, or used tissue paper thrown all over. Clearly, the demand is missing, like in any other segment of business.

Therefore, there was no question of surge pricing, though word is out that the passenger fare may include a lockdown component, thus raising the tariff.  And yes, there was no American voice guiding the route on this short trip.



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