Uber rolled out a messaging feature within its app last week. It’s now available to Indian users with the latest app update. While Uber believes that the in-app chat feature will enable “seamless communication” between riders and drivers, and will also eliminate the need for riders to share their mobile numbers, for all practical purposes, this might remain just a dream in India. Also Read - Uber cab service resumed in 31 cities in India with new Lockdown 4.0 guidelinesAlso Read - Uber launches 'Uber Connect' package delivery service to rival Dunzo and Swiggy Genie
Yes, women riders might benefit by not sharing their numbers, considering they are often at the receiving end of creepy, purposeless messages from drivers. But they can benefit only when they wouldn’t have to share their numbers, and that is likely to be rare. Also Read - Uber to operate 'Essential' cab service to hospitals and pharmacy stores in 4 cities
Tried texting your Uber driver?
Anyone who has hailed a cab in India will know that it can be an exhausting exercise. Be it Uber or any of its domestic rivals, drivers on all cab-hailing platforms usually struggle with maps, locations, directions and everything in between. We often have to make several calls to ensure that the driver reaches the pick-up point mostly never on time. There are instances when you need to cancel your booking, mostly because the driver is unreachable. And that is pretty common across cities. On many occasions, the rider is charged a cancellation fee too. ALSO READ: Uber launches in-app messaging feature, to be rolled out in India soon
How would texting help?
Now if a call fails to get the driver’s attention, what would a chat feature would do? Moreover, drivers in India are generally uncomfortable with text-based communication. They prefer voice commands to written messages even on pure-play messaging platforms. Also, Uber hasn’t thought about the language barrier in India. Most drivers don’t understand English, and Uber is yet to develop support for Indic languages. Sure, the new feature allows messages to be “read aloud” to drivers, but that’s in English too. Then there is the foreign accent to contend with. Most drivers, even if they know English, might find it difficult to understand directions in a Western accent. Most names of Indian roads are likely to be mispronounced. They are eventually taken from Google Maps, which many drivers already find confusing.
What about road safety?
In order to overcome such practical problems, they would always prefer a voice call over anything else. There is also the problem of driving-and-texting. India accounts for the highest number of driving-related deaths in the world. In 2016, there were 400 such deaths every day due to traffic collisions, speeding, drunk driving and so on. Indian roads are pretty much the graveyard for cars. Even in big cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru, the traffic situation is worsening by the day. Now, imagine Uber drivers busy staring at their screens on the middle of a congested road? It will not only flout all traffic rules, but can also hold up cars and lead to more accidents. ALSO READ: Uber launches driver profile to gain rider s trust
Thus, Uber’s new strategy doesn’t seem well thought-out for India at least. While in-app chatting might be great for drivers and riders in quaint Cleveland, it will only add to existing confusion in bustling Chennai. Messaging is hot now and every tech company wants to get into it, but in certain situations, nothing beats the efficacy of a simple voice call. For Uber, an additional feature will complicate the app, make it heavy and take longer to load on poor connections which is what most people will complain about. In a country where drivers are untrained more often than not, a chat feature in a taxi app achieves pretty much nothing.