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An Uber tale from Udaipur

An interesting experience with Uber last evening in Udaipur, where we are attending a dear friend’s wedding. Do read it in the context of this piece that underscores the concerns of operators in small cities across India and reminds us that the ‘bharosa’ that comes in with informal practices is often what makes systems tick in our country.

So last night we call an Uber to our hotel. As we get comfy and name our destination, the driver’s face falls. The destination is out of his range of coverage, he informs us. No amount of cajoling, offering extra money, nothing will make him go there. But he offers to drop us to the nearest intersection from where we request our friend to send us a car.

The intersection is rather deserted, but lit, and our driver is genuinely concerned about our comfort and safety. He is also visibly distressed about having to do this, but a recent Uber joinee and clearly not comfortable with taking risks as yet. Most of all, he is very relieved that we are not making a fuss. “Uber ke customers samajhte hain (Uber customers understand),” he tells us, in defense of his decision to drive Uber instead of Ola, the more popular app-based cab operator in these parts. Ola would probably have taken us to our destination, he adds, laughing!

Clearly, provisions for flexibility are a double edged sword for tech-enabled services. What is a higher priority- customer service or control over drivers who are expected to game the system? In a country where gaming the system is the system, it is quite a hilarious situation!



Airport diaries: IGI T3 in Delhi vs Amausi in Lucknow- Feb 13, 2012

We landed at the T3 terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi yesterday. The luggage was already on the conveyor belt when we got there (that’s the real reason to build an airport so large that the walk time is more than enough for the handlers to get the baggage out!). Soon enough, people had picked up their stuff and gone. Nupur’s bag hadn’t come yet and a suspiciously similar bag was still on the belt. We got the Jet staff to figure things out and sure enough, a certain Ms Pooja Bajpai had walked off with Ms N Chaturvedi’s suitcase, completely ignoring the bright green ribbon Nupur had tied over the handle just to avoid incidents like this!

As the two of us waited for Ms Bajpai to return to the airport, we spoke about how hugely things have changed in the customer service attitudes since just a few years ago. The Jet Airways ground staff person was fairly prompt, unruffled by the situation and very polite yet firm with Ms Bajpai. He explained the situation patiently to her and insisted she turn around to return the bag immediately. Through all this, her bag stayed sort of unattended somewhere near but not inside the Jet Airways counter! We wondered who was taking responsibility for the bag! The guy’s composure stayed intact through the process of locating her as they scurried back and forth the three lanes of traffic outside the terminal, till finally the bags were exchanged and Nupur returned triumphant.

Meanwhile, I was admiring the T3 airport, its sense of busy orderliness as compared to the chaos we normally associate with airports in India. The post-paid radio cab counters operated efficiently (we were lucky to be there on a Sunday evening) and we were home bound soon!

The organized hustle bustle outside T3

A triumphant Nupur returns with her green-ribboned suitcase and an apology from Ms Bajpai 🙂

The entire experience was quite a contrast from the crowded Lucknow airport, where instead of making loudspeaker announcements, airline ground staff shouted at passengers to wait, board or hurry! Nobody really knew what is happening. Long lines for the security check and insufficient seating at the departure lounge ensured frayed nerves and rising tempers. But most people did not look annoyed, simply resigned and impatient to get on board and away!

Clearly, traffic at airports in India’s Tier-2 cities is far more than these airports can handle. The current terminal at Lucknow airport was built in 1986. The new 3-storey building was to be inaugurated in November 2011 way before the election, but what we used yesterday appears to be the same terminal I have used for several years now! Media reports that the new 20,000 sq ft terminal will be able to handle 750 passengers at one go. I’m hoping this will be enough. I’m also hoping they’ve found a way to manage the UP Govt white ambassadors outside the terminal to whom no rules apply!

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