It’s 7 pm on a Friday evening in Bengaluru; you have just visited a friend. You want to go back. Your family vehicle is unavailable, you do not want to commute by bus and the cab company you have called says they are booked till 10:30 pm. Your friend agrees to drop you off to the auto stand, but the drivers refuse to come or ask you to pay more. What can you do?
It’s no state secret that most folks who commute by auto are skeptical of auto drivers. Of course, there are a good number of honest ones. But if Lady Luck is not on your side, the auto you flag down refuses to drop you or asks for ‘oneandhaff’ or the meter is rigged. By the time you find one who refutes the above three conditions, you’re irritated, angry and cursing the entire community of auto drivers.
In a city that has 1,33,338 autos (as per the Vehicle Population Study, August 2013 on the Bangalore Traffic Police website), commuters are most certainly looking for a respite. Could there be something that could bridge the gap between the two communities – commuters and auto drivers? mGaadi (http://www.mgaadi.com) could very well be it!
Dial an auto, or book through app
The mGaadi website describes its offering as a commuting service, with a location-based network of commercial drivers, powered by customer ratings, which is looking to improve the quality of commuting in Indian cities, while delivering a suite of livelihood and social security services to drivers. In short, you place a request for an auto, mGaadi tries its best to process your request and you get an auto that takes you on correct fare. While doing so, they ensure that the auto driver is taken care of too.
How it works is very simple. One needs to download the mGaadi app (available on Android only for now). The app has three features – book an auto, rate auto drivers and track trips. Users can book an auto for now (within 20 minutes) or for later in the day, either as a single trip or a round trip. It uses messages to alert auto drivers who are registered with them to respond to the request. You can also call mGaadi to book an auto on 080-67684983.
What’s unique about the 550 auto drivers who have registered with mGaadi is that they have all agreed to “go as per meter” and not charge extra. In addition to the meter fare, passengers need to be pay Rs. 10 to the auto driver as pickup fee.
Solomon Prakash and Vishy Kuruganti are the founders of India Drivers Network – mGaadi is their product/service brand for urban commuters. The Android app was released on December 10, 2013. The next version of the app will have a safety feature – real-time sharing of trips (on a map) with friends and family, and will enable smartphone-based GPS fare calculation (to validate the auto’s meter), says Vishy Kuruganti.
mGaadi developers want to achieve three things:
a) Improve quality of commuting in Indian cities (starting in Bangalore, with auto rickshaws)
b) Improve the livelihoods of commercial drivers (starting with auto drivers)
c) Reduce the environmental impact of commuting in Indian cities
The app makes the booking process far more efficient than calling by phone, especially when making recurring trip requests. The company works only in Bangalore as of now. The founders want to have at least 10,000 drivers joining their network by the end of 2014, before embarking on expansion plans.
“We are passionate about mGaadi’s potential as a market-based solution that will delight commuters and generate incremental income (and social security cover) for auto rickshaw drivers. Some might call this an inclusive solution. We prefer to call it a fair solution,” says Vishy Kuruganti.
Services still at development stage
However, Rugby development officer, Nishant Nereyeth had this to say about mGaadi’s service: “They didn’t message and they didn’t come…THRICE.” Several others who tried booking, experienced the same thing – there was no message sent in case mGaadi was unable to cater to a particular request.
Vishy says that while there have been a couple of slips, that was certainly something that they were working at improving. In case of unavailability, the customer would be informed around 15 to 30 minutes prior to the actual time of pick up, he added.
Vishy adds that mGaadi was feasible for those commuters who are seeking to travel more than 5 km and for those who needed to commute from those areas where supply and demand for autos do not match. For instance, Marathahalli does have plenty of autos that go around; but only a handful of them agree to come ‘on meter’. It could also work out for those who make recurring daily trips.
The rating system will be a useful tool. Over time, mGaadi will be able to ascertain those auto drivers who are dependable and reach out to them more often to cater to commuter requests. Customers will also be able to request for a driver with a specific rating or refuse one as the case may be.
Thirumaleshwara, an auto driver, to whom Citizen Matters spoke, was all praises for mGaadi. He said that mGaadi gave GPS-enabled android handsets and mobile internet facilities initially to all drivers registered with them. Other benefits for the auto drivers include:
A couple of assured trips from the requests that mGaadi sends
The drivers can choose to accept or reject a particular requests
Increase in daily take-home by Rs. 200 +
Plans to offer family insurance to the driver
Other auto initiatives
The Sugama Savari initiative that was launched by the city traffic police last week is another example of the rating system at work. Customers can rate their experience with auto drivers and those with high scores will be felicitated. They have also launched a new app called Happy Auto, where customers can share their feedback about drivers.
Bangalore has seen services of a similar nature in the past as well. There was Easy Auto which opened and shut shop in 2007, as a result of its lack of scalability. Earlier this year, Autowale ran a pilot in Bangalore which was very well-received. While they seem to be currently operational only in Pune, Mukesh Jha, co-founder of Autowale, did say that there were plans to launch their operations in Bangalore and commuters should expect them in the city by early 2014.
There are other companies in India that offer similar services and are doing a fine job of it. G-Auto (www.g-auto.org) is a dial-an-auto service that operates in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Surat and Rajkot and expects to grow to 50,000 autos by 2015. EcoCabs (http://ecocabs.org/) in Chandigarh is another unique service; set up in 2008, commuters can book cycle rickshaws by means of an app.
Going by the current trend across the country, it seems like a new era, where auto commuters can have a safe journey for a reasonable amount is in the offing. Good for the commuters, good for the drivers – what more can we ask for?