Tuk-tuk, Uber, and Negotiation

I became acutely aware of my reluctance to negotiate in everyday situations one day as I was waiting on an Uber for 20 minutes on my way to work. I often opted for Uber over going to the street to call an autorickshaw, or tuk-tuk, to avoid haggling for the price, and any miscommunication about my destination. Last semester, I took Negotiations in Wharton, and while my peers evaluated me as one of the most skilled for distributive negotiations, which includes traditional bargaining, I didn’t find myself wanting to negotiate for the price of a rickshaw ride in India.

Growing up, I remember watching my parents adeptly negotiate for things like furniture, but when I tried bargaining, even at the flea market, I felt clueless at first. Haggling for prices is a skill that I think many people from “Western” countries do not develop in everyday life; the existence of price tags eliminates a need to bargain, yet in many parts of the world, people still bargain. 

However, for me, bargaining with my auto driver includes another level of unsureness – I am an extremely economically privileged person from one of the most economically powerful countries in the world. When I bargain for a rickshaw ride, it’s usually over a few dozen rupees, which is a few cents. These few cents, quite frankly, are worth more to him than me. But this shouldn’t be act of charity, either; I’m not trying to be a “benevolent” rich person and donate my cents to him. Should I try to follow cultural norms of bargaining? People see me and hear my American accent and know that I am willing to pay more. Although at first I felt a sense of injustice that I was being “ripped off as a foreigner,” I also am reminded of the sheer irony of the situation, as systemic injustices have disproportionally “ripped off” the economically marginalized.

The emergence of Uber and Ola into the Indian market has created competition for autorickshaw drivers as Uber and Ola tend to be less regulated than autorickshaws; for example, autorickshaws in Delhi are required to use CNG, or compressed natural gas, for fuel, which is more expensive than diesel. Additionally, Uber’s business model focuses on gaining as much market share as possible through increased demand and rock-bottom pricing – sometimes, I find that I end up paying similar amounts for Uber and a rickshaw. Uber drivers, who enter the job with guarantees of a stable income, have found themselves making not only little profit, but also in deep debt due to the capital cost of their vehicle, as well as cost of fuel. On an early-morning journey to the airport, our Uber driver pulled over and asked us to stop the ride and start a new one because he had to meet a certain quota to receive a bonus. Despite our language barrier, I could tell that this bonus was very important to him. 

Throughout my time in Delhi, I have reflected more on my position of economic privilege and ability to bargain. I have haggled for the price of hotel rooms and boathouse stays, yet bargaining for a rickshaw is more uncomfortable for me. Perhaps I have opted more for Uber, rather than rickshaws, not to avoid a logistical inconvenience, but rather an ethical dilemma. Although sometimes I feel that I am overanalyzing the situation, I know that taking time to think critically about the context of negotiations is important, especially in a different cultural setting.

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About Soomin Shin

CW'19, Major in PPE, Intern at MMTC-PAMP, Delhi, summer 2017