Uber and Free Market Economics

Uber has changed the way we travel within cities. On a recent trip to Jaipur, the first thing I did on reaching the city, was to top-up my PayTm wallet to get going on Uber. (yeah no card-on-file yet 🙂 )

Uber Free Market Economics

And over the next 3 days I took more than 12 rides across the Pink city. Here are some of the interesting observations I had:

  • Jaipur is really a small city – Only one ride was over Rs 100/-. All others barely crossed the Rs 75/- mark. Given the distances are not too much, the per ride fare is expected to be low. This is a critical point because the supply-demand balance can be easily titlted in a small-population. Also the per ride metrics are sensitive to even the slightest changes.
  • Free market economies tend to be cyclical – Almost all the drivers I spoke to talked about the good old times they have had, driving around as Uber cabs upto almost 6 months back. It seems back then Uber was super aggressive in signing up cabbies and were paying as high as Rs 1800/- per day. Guaranteed. This came down to 1600, 1400 and now is at 1200/-. And its all because of the immensely huge supply. Most cabbies now complained of getting too few rides on a daily basis. Add to that the low average per ride fare and it is clear that this city needs volume of rides to be high. Or to quickly reach an optimal sweet-spot of supply and demand match. As the word of tough times (for the cabbies) is spreading,  fewer are joining and many who had joined Uber are reportedly quitting it. Some can’t even pay their loan EMIs.
  • There is no consistency of vehicle experience – I got from a Nano to an Innova under UberGo. Firstly, UberGo is where most customers go, hence even cabbies are registering themselves as UberGo. So you are better off choosing an UberGo. The Innova guy said that he wasnt getting any rides so he switched from UberX to Uber Go. Also it seems you make the same per ride across both categories. Hence UberGo seemed a logical preference. The Nano guy was proud of his decision, he claimed that he would recover his investment much faster. And thats true. I think this is a classic example of how the market evolves when its close to a free market.
  • Drivers understand and give importance to rider feedback – I have never seen so much sensitivity from an Uber Driver towards the feedback/rating. To have been able to crack this is really commendable on Uber’s part. The drivers have strong appreciation for this feedback being utilized for giving them ride bookings. Again, there might not be a completely transparent system but the fact that information and feedback is flowing across the supply and demand side, is strong enough motivator to influence decisions.
  • Locals are avoiding taking own vehicles – Lot of areas constantly face bad traffic due to construction activities. Parking is a challenge. Most of my local friends have either started using an Ola or Uber over self-drive or are seriously considering to do so. Atleast till the fares are this low !

Update:

And back in Delhi.

  • There was a surge charge of 1.9X due to high demand and unmatched supply I guess. This allowed UberX  guys to also pick up UberGo customers without formally registering into the UberGo. Complete reverse of what’s happening in Jaipur. I guess Delhi customers prefer the more spacious UberX and there is sufficient demand therein.
  • The first cabbie who picked my request, called me and asked me where I need to go (instead of asking me where to pick me up from), and hearing my destination – declined. Just put the phone down and on my Uber screen I was back at fresh request. No way to even go and give feedback on this bloke ! So I guess Delhi cabbies have a hack to the feedback-driving-behaviour loop also. Land of Jugaad !!

How much should we pay

Amazing little discussion today, which brought forth the consumer perception about pricing.

A guy walks upto the apartment across the road & offers to remove the bee-nest. He gets the job for a small sum of money (not sure how much) and the deal says, he will get to keep the honey also. He comes over to our place to ask for a bucket (to collect the honey).

Beehive HoneyDad gives him the bucket- he is back in 15 minutes with almost 20 litres of fresh pure honey. Wants to sell it to us & the neighbors & call it a day.

Bargaining starts & I watch as his would-be-customers negotiate for the right price. They want a steep discount coz they know he has already made a neat sum by removing the bee-nest . The market rate is Rs 200/- per litre & they are not willing to pay more than Rs 80/- (more than 50% discount) !

Once the deal is closed, I try to understand their logic of asking for such a steep discount. I thought its the fact that this guy is not really in a market with too many customers, so given his limited options he can best sell to those who know the honey is fresh etc. But they stick to their logic, that since the man made some money (mind you- none of them know how much he made. That is if he made any money at all) by removing the nest, he has not invested time & energy in rearing those bees.

How do they know that when they pay Rs 200/- in the market, the guy selling it has actually worked harder than this chap. Do they want to reward labor or pay the price thats right for fresh honey? It seems as consumers our satisfaction levels are dependent on the margins our suppliers have . Is this why we have advertisements & neat packaging options- so that our mind can somehow stop doing the margin calculations & be happy with the purchase.

Funny how the human mind behaves.