CHENNAI: Ola’s application users were in for quite a surprise this week as a new option started popping up on their screens - Autorickshaws!
The fast-growing aggregator has rolled out a soft launch of their Ola Auto service in Chennai. City Express spoke to drivers, who said that more than 600-700 autos have already started plying the roads with Ola. All of them are charging customers by the meter, with a mere additional `10 as convenience charge.
Though largely similar to their taxi services, Ola’s auto option does have a few differences. It is available only on the app. You need to enter the drop point before hand, and if none of the drivers in your vicinity wants to ferry you, you are stuck. Ola wasn’t very keen to speak about the service and where it was headed, stating that it “was a pilot project and it is the beta version that is being run.”
However, drivers had no such qualms. According to P Dhamodharan, who said he and his ‘auto stand friends’ in T Nagar were among the first to sign up with Ola, the service looked promising. “We signed up about two weeks ago, and got our smartphones with the app fit on our autos the same day,” he said, pointing to a slick Huawei smartphone attached to the windshield. “We’ve had the phone for two weeks, but we did not start getting any rides until Wednesday,” he said.
The rush to sign up with Ola seems to be driven by a few factors. The fact that they can refuse a ride anytime seems to count a lot with drivers. But the most important factor is the incentive. “NTL had asked us before, but I never felt the need to join them. This company is offering us a lot of incentives,” said Ramesh G. Driver accounts of incentives differ. For every 12 hours they are on call, drivers get `250, they say. Plus an extra `30 per ride. Some drivers also said that they got `100 extra a day if they served 10 Ola customers.
With incentives, drivers have no complaints about meter rates. “I can also do outside rides. That could bring in more,” Dhamodharan admitted. The success of the aggregator depends on a few factors though. For one, they need to get enough autorikshaws to sign on with them. And the incentives will have to go sometime in the future, at which point they will have to retain drivers. “Whether I would like to drive for Ola if there are no incentives depends on how many rides I get a day. It has to be atleast 10,” said Ramesh.
Ola also has another problem. The few customers that the fledgling service has served in the last three days have no complaints but they are concerned about safety, especially following the rape of a woman executive in Delhi by a cab driver.
“I wouldn’t use this service at night. But it is convenient otherwise,” said Geeta Kumar.Since Ola was unwilling to speak on the project, CE turned to the drivers. According to them, security has tightened. “Drivers now have to go through a gruelling process. They have to get a character certificate and have to sit through a long interview. It is taking a few days now, instead of just five hours a few weeks ago,” said Dhamodharan.