Pune start-up rescues commuters from clutches of auto drivers
Oct 16 2012, 19:20 | By SME Mentor
They were once a godsend for commuters - easily available, very affordable and they took you where no train or bus could go. But, over the years, autorickshaw drivers turned into a necessary evil - the drivers grew ill-tempered, tampered with their meters, and for commuters willing to grin and bear it, the burgeoning population made it well nigh impossible to hail one.
But in April 2010, Pune became the envy of all metros, with a service that brought the lightweight yellow-and-black three-wheeler to commuters' doorsteps. Imagine picking up the phone and dialling an auto! Bringing comfort to weary commuters was Autowale.in, a service founded by two Pune-based former IIT-Kanpur alumni, Mukesh Jha and Janardan Prasad with a seed capital of Rs 15 lakh raised from the founders' personal savings.
How it began?
"We were both struggling to get to work every day as it was tough to locate and hire autorickshaws in certain areas in Pune. On the flipside, auto drivers were concerned about the instability in their earnings. The whole autorickshaw experience was not organised," explains Jha. "So we used technology and communication skills and built a system that would work with the existing infrastructure."
Jha and Prasad thus founded Ubida Solution, the company which runs the Autowale service. "The word 'ubi' is derived from Sanskrit for 'location' while 'ida' means 'intelligence' as our service is a smarter, more efficient way to commute," beams Jha.
The duo worked the Autowale pilot from their homes and outsourced only the call centre operations. They later moved into a small office and now have 35 people who run the 24x7 call centre. "Among our bigger challenges was getting auto drivers on board. We started with 25 drivers and went up to 400 subscriptions in 4 months," says Jha. "The auto unions refused to cooperate with us so we went from driver to driver to convince them."
Getting an auto through Autowale
To avail the service, you need book an auto either over the phone or through the Autowale.in portal, at least an hour before you start your journey. Once availability is confirmed, Autowale uses location tracking to find you an auto and transmits the details to the driver. The customer then receives booking confirmation via SMS. The rickshaw later arrives at your doorstep and the meter starts ticking at the pick-up point. Sounds incredible? Well, Punekars will tell you it is!
Same As A Radio Cab Service?
From the commuter's perspective, both services operate in the same way but their models are very different. "Radio cabs use a far more capital-intensive model. We do not invest in vehicles and the drivers are not on our payroll. The fare is also not determined by us and the drivers follow the RTA-approved tariff."
Ubida Solutions initially used a need-based model, where the customer paid Rs 15 more than the meter reading. This constituted the company's revenue. But there were hurdles such as lack of commitment from the drivers and an inability to control or negotiate with the drivers.
"We now have a commitment-based model, where each driver commits a certain number of kilometres to us at the beginning of every month," reveals Jha. "At the end of every week, they pay us the committed sum. Monthly profits are 30 to 35 per cent while the remaining money goes to the auto drivers and to run the call centre. We also use some retention strategies, so when a driver completes 100 trips, we offer a reward and when he completes 500 trips, he gets another reward and so on."
Also, the drivers do not work exclusively with Autowale and can operate independently when free or after working hours.
'Auto Driver No More!'
Autowale has not only helped Pune's beleaguered auto drivers earn more, it has made this blue-collar job much more palatable. Says Raju Mohol, who has signed up with Autowale, "I now earn around Rs 18,500 a month. I also don't need to wait for customers at autorickshaw stands. I have also noticed that customers respect me."
There are 'lifestyle' benefits too as the drivers are provided with health insurance and other schemes. "We no longer look upon them as 'mere auto drivers' but as professionals who are experts at providing a service. This generates a sense of commitment and professionalism among them," reveals Jha. He adds that the company has hired HR professionals to manage the drivers, who also undergo a training programme to ensure safety and quality service.
The numbers speak for the success of this service. According to Jha, Autowale currently serves 1 lakh customers and is growing at 35 per cent, month on month. And, if all goes well, 2012 will see four more cities using this smart solution to commuting by autorickshaw. Way to go!
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