Anyone who travels by local transport in Bangalore knows how difficult it is to commute by autorickshaws. Commuters have to grapple with exorbitant fares, tampered meters, brash drivers and apprehensions about safety. However, a new Bangalore start-up aims to turn things around - and not just for the commuters but for the auto-drivers as well.
Dial an auto
“Last year, when I met my business partner Solomon Prakash, who was at the time working on his other start-up, LabourNet, he pitched the idea for an ‘India Drivers Network’ to me. The crux of the plan being to reduce commuters’ anxieties, while also addressing livelihood and social security issues of the drivers, using technology to tie it all together,” explains Vishy Kuruganti, co-founder of India Drivers Network whose mGaadi, a call auto service - a ‘for profit’ social enterprise to organise auto-drivers.
mGaadi (now an app as well) lets commuters call a number to request for an autorickshaw. Based on their location, the nearest autorickshaw is sent to them. The autorickshaw driver will charge go by the meter and the commuter can rate the driver, post the commute.
“We wanted to understand why autorickshaw drivers here behave the way they do. In a poll conducted by us, we saw that more drivers agree to go by meter, than not. However, Bangalore is a huge city, not all drivers can go everywhere. They have their own routes, which is why sometimes even the honest drivers refuse to take customers. What we do is, using a location-based technology like GPS, we match customers with drivers who are nearest to their location,” says Vishy. Much like how cab services work in the city.
The start-up believes that autorickshaw drivers in India form a large percentage of the unorganised labour here.
They aim to provide drivers the benefits of a regular, full-time, salaried job, by giving them benefits like life insurance policies and helping them with loans (not just for vehicles, but also house and
education loans). “We are not aiming at changing their (drivers') behaviour. We aim to partner with good, honest drivers, looking to grow. We want to help them make as much money possible, by minimising the dead miles for them as well,” says Vishy.
The start-up, which was launched on October 1 as just a call-in service, recruits drivers through a field operation scheme where groups of three or more people approach autorickshaw drivers and their unions and pitch the idea to them.
They also ask commuters to refer auto-drivers who agree to charge by meter, without any fuss. On December 10, they launched an Android app as well. “Within the next couple of weeks, we hope to launch the iOS and Windows apps too,” informs Vishy.
The duo now hopes to achieve the target of signing on 10,000 drivers across Bangalore with mGaadi, to ensure everyone in Bangalore can avail the service, at any given point of time. “We would eventually like to take on more cities and maybe even include taxi drivers, but right now the complete focus is on making this work better for both the drivers and for commuters.”
mGaddi can be reached on 080-67684983 to book an autorickshaw. The meter fare, plus a `10 pickup fee, is payable directly to the driver. Night rates will apply.
The Pune model
Some will remember a Pune-based start-up called Autowale, also a call-in service, that was launched in the city late last year. However, within five months, they had seemingly shut shop. However, when City Express reached founders Mukesh Jha and Janardhan Prasad, they stressed that the five-month stint was a pilot project.
“We tried various business models depending on customer demand, driver acceptance and investor support. Our idea was to mobilise the market and help auto drivers become entrepreneurs themselves,” explains Mukesh.
Within the first month of operations that was concentrated on South and East Bangalore, Autowale says it managed to sign on 200 auto-drivers. “We were pleasantly surprised at the willingness of auto drivers to get on board,” says Mukesh.
Autowale hopes to return to Bangalore by January 2014. “We’re looking at expanding into cities like Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai. But we will wait till we are sustainable in Pune and Bangalore first,” says Mukesh.
P Manjunath, president, Adarsh Auto Union says, “A lot of our drivers have signed up with such start-ups. I think it is a great opportunity for a to earn a regular income. It promotes mutual trust between drivers and commuters. Often, it has been observed that when drivers go by the meter, the passenger calls on the same driver for other trips and this brings in more money for the auto-driver. We’re happy to see such initiatives in the city.”