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Finance & Innovation

Indians ditch their 9-5s for taxi driving

Flickr- Attila Siha

In India, workers are leaving the security of stable IT jobs to get behind the wheel and work for Uber.

In an article explaining the trend, Financial Times offers 28-year-old Srinivas Murthy as a prime example. After enjoying a comfortable career working in call centers, Murthy was lured by the stories of friends who had allegedly doubled their salaries by joining the taxi-app.

“I never thought I would take up driving, because business management was my education, and then I was in a BPO,” (a business process outsourcing center like a call center) he said. “But it’s been four weeks I’ve been with Uber, and now I’m earning much more.”

Competing for the market is local rival Ola, which has around 100,000 cars India (industry experts believe Uber has about half that).

Both companies face a unique challenge: only 2% of Indians own cars, compared with the US where 80% of Americans are car owners. This means drivers must account for purchasing a car, while also covering the cost of gas, car insurance, and vehicle maintenance.

Still, many people like Murthy believe the benefits outweigh the costs. Uber pays weekly, and offers drivers the flexibility of choosing their own hours. “You drive, you are your own boss,” says Murthy.  “I don’t miss the call centre at all. For my family, driving a taxi is better.”

As a result, workers from all sectors and educational backgrounds are flocking to the taxi-apps, leaving their former careers behind. Anand Subramanian, a director at Ola, explains, “We are hiring teachers, engineers, people from IT centres. There are even some from government offices, which is a contrast with 20 years ago, when a government job was the most coveted thing in India.”

So here’s the real question: is this a sign of the progress that comes with innovation, considering hundreds of thousands of people are now able to earn higher salaries, and potentially enjoy a higher quality of life? Or, is this a sign that the global economy is so bleak people are being forced to take jobs with no benefits or security in order to make ends meet, in spite of being overqualified? (Interestingly, the trend of educated drivers joining Uber can be seen in other countries a well such as the US where nearly half of drivers have a college degree).

To me, it all comes down to how companies like Uber treat their drivers. In the US, Uber’s
“driver partners”  have begun to complain about fares decreasing in order to attract new riders to the App, and globally, concerns over the safety of passengers and drivers have been raised (particularly in India after a high profile sexual assault). If these companies are able to address these concerns while proving they’re invested in the well-being of their drivers, I see nothing wrong with them. After all, the purpose of education is to open up opportunities. It’s then up to the individual to determine what to do with them.