What exactly does it take to become an Uber driver in New Delhi?
Not much, according to two Uber drivers interviewed by Quartz on Sunday, who said that the Gurgaon office of the San Francisco-headquartered startup spends between two and three days to train its new drivers. The full names of the drivers have been withheld to protect their jobs.
After a woman’s accusations of rape against an Uber cab driver on the night of Friday, Dec. 5 in New Delhi, there have been some serious questions raised about how the app-based taxi booking service screens, recruits and trains its drivers in India.
The Delhi police has doubts about how Uber ran the background check and conducted a police verification of the driver who is said to have sexually assaulted the woman. The 32-year-old driver, who was apprehended on Sunday, was reportedly arrested three years ago for a sexual assault.
“It’s not tough,” said a 26-year-old Uber driver. “I went to their office, they checked my driver’s license and they ask me to read. They want to make sure we can read English. They asked me to read some random names and addresses.”
The majority of Uber drivers in New Delhi, according to another Uber driver, work for local transportation companies. These companies own the vehicles and contract drivers to ply them on behalf of Uber, explained Mahendra, who has been driving cabs for over 20 years.
“The drivers then take the car, their licences, photos and other documents to Uber’s office in Gurgaon where they are verified,” he said. “Apart from that we are given coaching on how to behave and talk to customers.”
But within the Uber community in New Delhi, said Mahendra, drivers of uberX—the cab service category the alleged victim took on Friday—have a reputation for being less polite than others.
uberX is one of the three categories of service provided by Uber in India, the others being uberBLACK and uberGo. uberBLACK is the premium service while the recently launched uberGo is the low-cost version. uberX is priced in between and is used by a large number of Indian customers.
Uber, in a statement, said that it “exclusively partners with registered for-hire drivers who have undergone the commercial licensing process, hold government issued IDs, state-issued permits, and carry full commercial insurance.”
Moreover, after Friday’s incident, it has provided local authorities with the driver’s name, age, photo, complete driver’s license details and bank verified address. It also records the license, registration, insurance and state-issued driver permit of the vehicle.
“We will also work with the community, with government and the technology industry to find more ways to promote safety in transportation, particularly for women – both here in Delhi and throughout India,” the statement added.
In the US, the company employs a three-step screening process to screen a driver’s county, federal and multi-state records going back seven year, although drivers says that procedure isn’t always followed.
Questions emailed to Uber seeking details of its background checks on drivers in India remained unanswered at the time of publishing.
Despite this incident, New Delhi’s Uber drivers say that the company insists that its customers—especially, women—are treated respectfully.
“During my training, there were about 40 drivers,” said the 26-year-old uberX driver. “They asked us to talk to the customers with respect. Sometimes the customers may be worried due to some reason and we keep on talking to him, that’s not right.”
“We are asked to make female passengers feel safe,” he added, “They should not feel insecure in an Uber. They teach us to talk to them properly, don’t say anything offensive, don’t talk unnecessarily and speak only when spoken to.”
“I have always maintained a distance with the customers,” said Mahendra, while driving from New Delhi’s Kailash Colony to Khan Market. “Sometimes there are people who drink in the car, yet I maintain a distance.”
But maintaining such high standards presumably has its difficulties especially if Uber’s fleet in India was expanding by as much as 30% every month earlier this year.
In India, Uber has already had to deal with a run in with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which forced the company to change its global payment model. Its Indian customers must use an electronic wallet that has partly taken away from the typical convenience of using an Uber cab.
According to the drivers Quartz interviewed, when transporters own the vehicles, the driver is paid between Rs8,000($130) and Rs11,000($180) while the owner keeps the remaining earnings. An uberBLACK driver who owns his car, earns between Rs80,000 ($1400) and Rs120,000($2000) in a month after paying 20% of his earnings to Uber as a technology and service fee.
For drivers like Mahendra, who bought a premium hatchback car with a large loan two months ago after working for a transportation firm previously, a future driving an Uber cab seems uncertain.
“Earlier, I was earning Rs3,500 almost everyday. That fell to Rs1,500 after the RBI rule,” he said. “Now I am scared this is going to make matters worse.”