The launch of Uber came as a welcome breeze for city commuters who were on the lookout for a reliable, luxurious, and yet, affordable ride. While it charged more than the traditional autorickshaw, Uber offered customers the choice of riding in Audis, BMWs and even Mercedes for a mere 50% more than what they would pay for an auto. Uber’s swagger was also reminiscent of all those Silicon Valley start-ups that enter new markets.
However, all that came crashing down with the Friday’s incident of an Uber driver raping a passenger in Delhi. The incident brought to light a major concerning factor; Uber’s flawed product behind a seemingly polished look.
Uber’s entry in the Indian taxi market created waves. Many taxi start-ups in fact started looking up to the concern and its brand value when building their own companies. However, the question everyone is asking today is “Did Uber live up to this cult image?”
Following the incident on Friday, Uber issues a rather dry response stating that it would suspend the accounts of the drivers after such incidents. The response also highlighted the company’s myriad safety mechanisms like the estimated arrival time as well as the GPS tracking facilities in each cab. However, there is no denying the fact that the company would need to bear the responsibility of all the actions committed by its drivers, whether they are full time employees, or part time contract drivers.
Unlike other taxi companies, Uber promised reliability and safety; two factors that made it a brand name among commuters. However, increasing attrition rates have apparently forced the company to forgo its promise and hire new drivers without doing intense background checks. It would most definitely need to return to these processes if it intends to survive in the aftermath of this defaming incident.
Investors on the other hand, also seem to be least concerned about these issues. Most of them choose to stick to a company that is able to make money in Indian markets irrespective of the practices employed or the social image of the latter. What these investors need to realize ultimately is that India is quite different from other countries. While Indians crave quality, they go up an extra notch when it comes to safety, and would prefer to pay extra if assured the same.
Investors backing Uber and other similar companies in India need to start answering about brand promises and guarantees. They would need to look beyond mere monetization challenges in country like India whose internet economy has just started booming. Similarly, companies like Uber intent on spreading their wings in India would need to discard their Silicon Valley swagger at the front door and do realistic business using a model that suits India.
The recent incident where a cab driver raped a passenger sheds light on the broken promise of the Uber taxi company to offer safe, reliable travel for its customers. Uber would need to realize that what works for the US does not work for India, and that safety is considered more essential than quality here. Doing realistic business is what would make the company regain its lost reputation in the Indian market.