Well Uber certainly is in trouble in India, and I think it is a combination of its own levels of inefficiency here coupled with the nastiness that has crept into Indian society where men look on women as objects, and use violence in the form of abuse and rape with impunity.

In London Uber is an experience---at different levels--- that needs to be recorded. It is an amazing brand, conceptualised and worked upon by one believes two men in California. I am not even trying to find out who they are as that is not the purpose of this piece. It works on the mobile phone, you book the cab on the app, you are told within how many minutes it will reach you, and from then on you can track its movement and time on the roads until it reaches your address. The brand of the car and the car number is given to you so you can pick it out on the street. It is booked on the internet, paid through your credit card, and so after the driver leaves you at your destination there is no fumbling for money, change, etc. A clean deal in every which way. And you don’t wait for more than a few minutes to get the cab...the longest I had to wait was for six minutes and this was not even in central London.

You become a Uber driver through an extensive interview---the only time you meet actual people, verification of documents, a driving test at times etc. Once accepted you get a device that you log into when you want to report for work. All Uber drivers usually have their own cars, could be working elsewhere, and log on to the service for extra money. Many work solely as cab drivers. As soon as you log in, you are connected to a clearly very efficient, and well organised data base that directs you to the customers. Very interestingly, the driver is told through the data device from where to pick up the customer but not where the customer is going. As many of the drivers told me, this is to ensure that no one refuses just because he does not want to go to that destination. So it is only after the customer is picked up, and the fact registered on the device, that the address of the destination is flashed on the screen. So in other words, once the driver reports for duty it is mandatory for him to go with the flow, regardless of the destination. He cannot say no to the customer.

There is a feedback service. So the customers get to rate the drivers. And the drivers too get to complain about customers, who can be---and at times have been---banned by Uber from using the service. Drivers have lost their jobs as well on the basis of complaints. Uber takes a cut from the money received, and transfers the major amount directly to the bank accounts of the drivers. Most spoken to said that this system was faultless and they never really had to complain about it. One driver said there was a slight discrepancy once, and the moment he pointed it out it was corrected by the service. The drivers do not deal with people, there are no people, they deal only with the device. As do the customers, who book and pay through the app. Every single driver one met was extremely happy with the service, felt it was fair to both sides, and protected the interests of both.

This is the basis on which it has been set up but interestingly Uber in London has generated employment for the huge immigrant population. The drivers for the cabs I engaged came from all possible nationalities---Somalia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Mexico, India (Punjab), Pakistan. The Somalian, and there are many of them driving for Uber, said he had come from his country through France and Italy. He said he would never go back to Somalia because of the unrest, but missed home although London was fast becoming home now. He complained of levels of racism, however, saying the only reason why it was not as much as it could be “is because I don’t mix with the whites, I keep to myself and my community.”

The driver from Pakistan was in a dilemma. He had a wife and three children in London. He had married an old girl friend in Pakistan recently. He did not know how to manage the two and shared the details at some length. He was, however, very happy in London but determined not to bring both wives to the same city. “That I will never do,” he said.

Uber has broken the monopoly of the very British black cab. Expensive, outdated, these are still hailed on the streets, and the drivers often refuse to go where customers want to go. Black cabs are driven mostly by local British whites, and now increasingly by European immigrants and Asians as well. Black cab drivers have had several protests against Uber, with little result. The one advantage of the black cab is that it is owner driven, and there is no company involved. The high fares are pocketed by the drivers who clearly earn far more than their Uber counterparts. It is, however, very difficult to get a license for driving Black Cabs as the drivers have to first clear what they referred to as the ‘knowledge series’. One of the Uber drivers showed me one book of the four part Knowledge series, a thick, complicated manual that they have to clear. Being British the Black Cabs license involves the physical knowledge of every roundabaout, road sign and what have you on the routes; as well as information of famous persons who might have lived en route as well.

The more ambitious Uber drivers work alongside for Black Cab licenses. The man from India’s Punjab who just lost his father, and now has to look after his mother, said he wished he had prepared for this earlier. Now with the responsibilities on him he feared that he would not have the time to study for the Black Cab exams.

But clearly the white British monopoly on the Black Cabs is coming to an end, as indeed has the black cab monopoly on taxi services in London.