The gig economy’s tyranny of targets

Be your boss, manage your time, earn your money, endure financial stress, loneliness and uncertainty

11.15 a.m. The sun is exceptionally unforgiving on this muggy August morning in Delhi after a couple of days of rain. Pankaj, who asked to be identified only by his first name, is driving around in his Toyota, yawning. The car’s air conditioning is off and windows rolled down. He splashes water on his face to fight sleep. It’s been a 14-hour shift, the last 30 minutes without a passenger. Pankaj needs one more ride to complete his weekly target and get a cash incentive, which he missed last week.

He had driven around Delhi in loops; around the railway stations, the airport, even Noida—one of the multiple contiguous cities that make up the National Capital Region—in the middle of the night without any luck. “I had only heard stories from other drivers of wasting a whole night in search of that elusive one ride to complete the target,” he says. “Then last week, it happened with me. It was extremely frustrating.”

Target-based cash incentives are what the drivers for cab aggregators—driver-partners in taxi app parlance—get over and above their share from the rides that they complete. For aggregators, it is the tool to ensure drivers are out on the road long enough that there is no supply glut. For driver-partners, it is the bait.

llustrations by Swati Addanki.

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