Uber generated Rs 81b last year – Uber officials | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Uber generated Rs 81b last year – Uber officials

27 November, 2022
General Manager Bhavna Dadlani Jayawardena with, Country Manager, Thanushika Sivanathan
General Manager Bhavna Dadlani Jayawardena with, Country Manager, Thanushika Sivanathan

Recently, Uber launched the first-ever Economic Impact report in Sri Lanka. The report, researched and compiled by UK-based policy firm Public First, highlights how Uber and Uber Eats have helped transform the ‘on-demand economy for consumers, drivers and delivery partners and the wider community by generating Rs. 81 billion’ for the Sri Lanka economy in 2021.

The Sunday Observer met Bhavna Dadlani Jayawardena, General Manager, Uber Eats Sri Lanka and Thanushika Sivanathan, Country Manager, Uber Sri Lanka, to discuss Uber’s journey in the country and learn more about the report.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Uber entered Sri Lanka in 2015 and Uber Eats followed shortly after. How has the journey been so far?

A: Thanushika: It has been quite an experience from day one and we believe that we are just getting started.! When we first launched, we brought the ‘click a button, get a ride’ promise to Sri Lanka with our car offering as the only product on the app.

Over the next five years we expanded our portfolio with several products such as Uber Tuk, Premier, XL and Intercity. We have also grown our presence to over 40 cities across 4 districts today, with our Intercity product being available across the island.

Bhavna: Uber Eats launched in 2018 and it’s been an incredible ride since then. Despite back to back crises in the country, we’ve received a lot of love and our expansion has been quick. Today, we are present in five cities. We’ve supported the community as our presence kicks off a flywheel of opportunities. We have a 100-member strong team on the ground in Sri Lanka.

Q: What is your one top priority and one top challenge today?

A: Thanushika: For me, recovering from the crisis tops the list. With the availability of fuel now improving and with recent price reductions, we see the situation easing out. Our core priority is to recover strongly and focus on making the service affordable with products at different pricing points such as Uber Moto.

Bhavna: For Eats, top priority continues to be supporting the community. We’ve also focused on getting more females to work with us, along with marginalised communities inclusive of LGBT persons. A recent IMF report stated that getting people who are not working into the workforce will contribute significantly to economic recovery. As for challenges, it has been an obstacle course and this might continue to some extent.

Q: Drivers and delivery partners were perhaps among the most affected during the crisis. How will you support them as they remain most vulnerable?

A: Thanushika: Drivers are at the core of what we do and we’re constantly looking for ways to support them in the best way possible. During the pandemic, we contributed about Rs. 250 million towards driver welfare in the form of dry rations and financial support.

More recently, through the economic crisis, we’ve supported our partners in a similar manner. We’ve also launched a fuel surcharge benefit to support drivers. This was an additional surcharge that we added which went directly to drivers when the fuel price had increased.

Bhavna: Delivery partners are critical to our business and we’ve also put our best foot forward to support them. During the early days of Covid, we contributed Rs. 21 million towards PPE kits to ensure the safety of our rider and driver partners.

Over the last few years, whenever there were periods where our partners could not get on the roads, we would think about how to compensate them. This was especially true post the Easter Attacks when things were a little risky.

We’ve also handed out fuel coupons and increased their fares to insulate them against fuel price increases. Last month, we donated $200,000 to the Red Cross which also included the cost for providing dry rations to some driver partners.

Q: What is your current market share viz-a-viz your competitors? How has your pie grown over the last few years?

A: Bhavna: Things are moving fast each day and remain dynamic. At Uber, we believe in staying customer-obsessed rather than competition-obsessed. We feel competition is good - it helps drive efficiency and better the service overall.

Thanushika: I agree. We’re constantly looking to innovate and create differentiation for our offerings. For instance, our economic report states that 96% of female riders feel safer taking an Uber because of our safety features.

Q: Can you share some details about the economic report that you launched recently?

A: Bhavna: We’ve always been aware that we’ve created impact and value in the country. The economic report helps us articulate this positive impact and understand its value for the economy, and for individual drivers, delivery, and merchant partners. This research has been carried out by Public First, a global research firm that has done similar reports for tech companies around the world.

Thanushika: All research samples were obtained on-ground and a large number of customers and partners were surveyed independently.

Q: What does the contribution of Rs. 81 billion in economic value include?

A: Bhavna: We can break this number down into two components. One portion is what is directly earned by driver and merchant partners. The indirect portion is what is added to the supply chain as a result of our operations. Lastly, there is also an induced portion that includes what our partners spend their earnings.

Of the total value, Rs. 51 bn was generated from delivery last year, with remaining coming in from mobility. Nearly 90% of the customers surveyed indicated that they found the service very convenient when looking for merchant partners and close to 80% said that they tried a merchant partner for the first time through the platform. This is an indication of the opportunities that are being unlocked for customers and merchant partners.

Thanushika: When we look at driver partners, the majority of them drive part time, alongside a full time job. They drive on Uber because of the flexibility it provides.

The economic report revealed that drivers made an additional Rs. 775 million in 2021 and that drivers made an average of 27% more than their next best alternative with Uber.

Q: Sixty-one percent of driver and delivery-partners said they were satisfied with their experience using the Uber driver app. Can you comment on the other 39%? What were their gripes and what is being done to increase their satisfaction?

A: Bhavna: All I can say is that we want to be the platform of choice for every driver and delivery partner.

Our support process for delivery and driver partners is evolved and is something that we prioritise. We try to get regular feedback from our partners and make changes accordingly. Due to the back-to-back challenges that our country has faced, we recognise that it has not always been the smoothest ride. However, our earners are our top priority.

Thanushika: I must mention that these findings are from 2021 - that was a tough year and earnings were impacted. We’ve continually tried to make things easier for them.

Q: What does the research say about Uber supporting drivers, delivery and merchant-partners? What factor makes them value Uber most?

A: Thanushika: This one is easy - it is the flexibility that the platform provides. If you look back ten years, there were no flexible earning opportunities available for Sri Lankans. The fact that they can simply choose to switch on the app whenever they need to make additional earnings is something that is very appreciated across the board.

Bhavna: I agree - flexibility is the key. We’ve had instances where single moms have greatly appreciated this as they can plan their earning schedule around their household responsibilities.

Q: Safety has always been a hot topic for discussion - while a large number of people appreciate the safety features as highlighted in the research, is there more that Uber and Uber Eats would do to ensure safer rides for all?

A: Thanushika: That process is always on. We’re continuously working towards enhancing safety on the platform. For instance, we launched a 24x7 safety hotline in Sri Lanka so that a customer can get in touch with a live safety agent when the situation arises.

Q: Uber has committed to being emission-free by 2040. What are your plans across both businesses to move to sustainable transport?

A: Bhavna: We’re thinking about sustainability deeply. Earlier this year, we launched bicycle deliveries in response to the fuel scarcity. The situation might have expedited the process but cycle deliveries are very much part of our global micro mobility strategy.

Over the last couple of months we have also started experimenting with electric bicycles to introduce an additional supply class that can travel further. We will be looking at electric vehicles in the future as well to be able to support our global 2040 goal.

Different supply classes give our delivery partners the option to choose what works for them. Our goal is to create a greener society and we are keen to continue building this ecosystem. But we are equally conscious that it is not just about getting the vehicles on the road, but rather, it is about influencing the infrastructure required to support our efforts.

Thanushika: We’re currently exploring partnerships to push our electrification drive. However, the current import ban on vehicles has not made it easy. As of now, there are a few windows of opportunities for us which we hope to explore. We continue to work on this front and you will soon hear about our efforts in the coming months.