We’ve all put our game faces on, fully prepared to head out and enjoy the day, only to be faced with one obstacle: Ubers and PickMe rides. We, for one, have had our rides come to our doorstep and cancel, after the dreaded question ‘cash or card?’ On countless occasions, we’ve had to apologise to friends, co-workers and family with the usual “sorry, I’m late, my ride cancelled.” Brunch decided to see where the problems lay.
During a chat with consumers of both apps, Chathrika Aluthge, speaking about his most pressing issues with them, explained that when it came to payments, the drivers were usually extremely hesitant to take the credit or debit card payments because they say that they only get paid weekly. “In that case, they don’t have money for day-to-day work – to fill up fuel or buy food and anything else. Since they don’t have enough money, they usually are very hesitant to take card hires,” he stated, adding that it was moderately unfair for customers as it was inconvenient to stop at ATMs, especially when you’re in a rush. He also told us that he usually talks to the drivers at length, who have told him countless times that the amount of money they get is very low. “They have to pay a percentage plus a normal fee, a fixed fee as well, and when compared to a normal street tuk, the amount they get is very low. I don’t know how they are profiting from it, but the profit is very low,” he shared.
When we asked how often he’s encountered this issue, he said: “I personally rarely use cash, so this has happened to me quite a lot. Nowadays, the surge prices are also very high when it’s rush hour but I understand that there are reasons. But then again, sometimes with PickMe, the prices are doubled, Uber is kind of similar as well. They have many issues that they need to resolve.”
Card payment issues
We spoke to a few tuks from both companies to better understand their issues. Charitha Dinushka, an Uber driver, shared that with card hires, a fee is deducted from the payment that goes to the company. “We get a lot of both card and cash payments. It’s better for us to get cash; if we get a card, then it goes straight to the company,” he said, adding that he personally finds it convenient to receive card hires too, as he can avoid the hassle of going to the company to pay the fee.
Sharing these same sentiments was an Uber driver of four years, Ravindran: “A lot of drivers cancel card payments but I don’t have an issue with it because if we do a card hire or corporate hire, the money is deposited immediately so all I have to do is transfer it to my account.”
He did acknowledge that a lot of drivers cancel card hires but he doesn’t do that because he mostly gets corporate hires. Explaining to us how that works, he shared: “When I know it’s a corporate hire, I go to the My Finance option on my app and it will show me the amount I have to pay. When I get a corporate hire, the amount reduces quickly,” he said, on receiving card payments.
The first few drivers we spoke to all seemed okay with the idea of receiving card payments, although we as users know how difficult it is to actually book a ride on a card. PickMe driver M.N.A. Muzwar was able to shed light on why certain drivers come to your doorstep and cancel. “We are only shown if it’s cash or card if we get close to the pick up location,” he said. He said he believed it was unfair to the customer to cancel at that point, as the customer would have been waiting, but unfortunately it did happen and stated that the company should do something about this issue.
PickMe driver Amila Sandaruwan, who has been driving for over two years now, bluntly told us that when he received card hires, he would cancel immediately. When questioned why, he said: “I need the money immediately. I don’t want to have to keep withdrawing money as I need it to pay for fuel and other expenses.” He also noted that although he cancelled card hires, 50% of the hires he received a day were card, so he did incur a loss, but added that he would rather accept that than not have sufficient funds in hand for day-to-day activities.
Resolving the issue
We asked some of these drivers if they’d prefer the card option being removed permanently as a way of preventing customers from wasting time and drivers earning cash immediately.
Uber driver Ravindran shared: “From my experience, I can say it can’t be done because different customers use different payment methods. There are people who use cards and people who use cash. It will become a problem for the company because it will reduce their business.”
PickMe driver Amila Sandaruwan, however, stated that it wouldn’t make a difference to him whether it was removed or not, as he had set up his online banking apps with the company app and received money to his account immediately; his only concern was not being able to withdraw it whenever he wanted to.
We were in conversation with a consumer of both apps when he pointed out a simple solution that PickMe had also utilised. Chathurika Aluthge explained that PickMe had an option where you could change the payment options on the way, even after a ride had been booked.
“That option is convenient because if the tuk driver doesn’t want to get paid by the card, they can change. That is very understandable, I’m okay with it,” he told us. He also added that it was high time that companies incentivised or did something about it for the driver so that it would be easier for us customers as well. “The more options there are, the better it is for the customer and for everyone else. I don’t think removing the option is the way to go,” he stated.
The company speaks up
We took the collective complaints from the customers and drivers and went to PickMe to see if this issue would be resolved anytime soon. PickMe Head of Marketing and Communications Gowshik Sathiyasiva told us that it was important to understand that an app-based taxi hailing service operated in a gig economy. “Drivers on a given day have the option to work or not work – on some days they opt to work just for a couple of hours a day. There are other variables as well, i.e. the number of hires they get for the day. Therefore, there are no assurances of a fixed income so some days can be good and some can be bad,” he stated.
He added: “PickMe would like to say that there are no delays in the drivers getting their money immediately from the teller machines of a bank. However, on credit or debit card payments, PickMe deducts the agreed dues/commission that the driver owes the company and then deposits the rest into his/her account, which can be withdrawn at any given moment from the driver’s bank account.”
We pointed out that this cancellation issue mainly occurred with tuks and not with other vehicles on the app and asked why this was the case. On the drivers’ complaints of not receiving money immediately, he stated: “When a driver does not have sufficient money in hand to meet his daily expenses or to pump fuel, he would prefer to go with a cash transaction rather than a passenger paying via card. We can put down various reasons for these behavioural patterns of drivers, such as money management, volatile market conditions, sudden price escalation of essential goods, etc.”
He added that as we had observed, one may see the difference in driver behaviours in different vehicle categories, which they believe is due to various socioeconomic factors impacting people who are not on a fixed income. We asked if it was possible that the card payment option could be removed entirely, but unfortunately our question wasn’t acknowledged.
Concluding, he stated that PickMe fares were based on a well-calculated formula taking into account current inflation rates, fuel prices, and affordability of customers. “We restructured our fares in December 2021 and believe our fares are very much in line with market conditions.”
The answers we received were vague and from what we can tell, there may be no solution for this issue as of yet, or anytime soon. All we can do as paying customers is to perhaps avoid using one option presented to us by the company, as it is simply a waste of time for both the driver and passenger?
*The Sunday Morning Brunch’s attempts to obtain a response from Uber on this issue were futile.