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The new way to ride: Sharing cars with strangers

The festival season was not merely a bonanza for e-commerce, it also gave a tremendous boost to car pooling between cities as trains and buses could not accommodate everyone who wanted to travel.

business Updated: Nov 23, 2015 11:42 IST
Suveen Sinha
The festival season was not merely a bonanza for e-commerce, it also gave a tremendous boost to car pooling between cities as trains and buses could not accommodate everyone who wanted to travel.
The festival season was not merely a bonanza for e-commerce, it also gave a tremendous boost to car pooling between cities as trains and buses could not accommodate everyone who wanted to travel.(Illustration: Abhimanyu Sinha)

Indians, as any bemused westerner will tell you, are “strange” people because they do not even smile at you when they meet you in the elevator.

“True, but Indians also open up their hearts and food bags to you once they get to know you a bit, as any seasoned Indian Railways traveller will you,” says Raghav Gupta, the India head of BlaBlaCar, the French car-pooling startup.

But many of those train travellers end up getting waitlisted tickets, or no ticket at all. “At least 25,000 people who were waitlisted on a train have travelled through BlaBlaCar in the recent months,” says Gupta. The company’s name assumes that people talk a lot during long car rides.

Its comrade in arms is the Brazilian startup Tripda. Both set up shop in India in the last 12 months, and are aided by smaller Indian startups like Let’s Ride and Hopon.

And they seem to be making significant headway. The festival season was not merely a bonanza for e-commerce, it also gave a tremendous boost to car pooling between cities as trains and buses could not accommodate everyone who wanted to travel.

BlaBlaCar, which had offered 350,000 seats between January and June, claims that its users doubled during the festival season. Tripda says it has organised 100,000 trips in India, with the Diwali and Bhai Dooj week, when many people took the whole week off, giving it a 60% boost on the popular routes like Mumbai-Pune. It had 4,000 seats on offer on this route in the Diwali week.

When HT caught up with Parvez Sheikh on Friday evening, he was in a car from Pune, where he works in an IT company, to Mumbai, where his family lives. The car was being driven by its owner, Rajesh. Tripda had brought them together. “It’s a real blessing,” said Sheikh over phone. He goes to Mumbai every Friday and had got tired of the travails of getting a bus or train ticket.

Delhi-Chandigarh competes with Mumbai-Pune in popularity. Bangalore-Hyderabad and Bangalore-Chennai are also in demand.

“By the end of December or by Republic Day, the seats available with us may match the number of seats available on buses on the Mumbai-Pune route,” says Nitish Bushan, Tripda’s head of Asia.

All you have to do is register yourself with details including mobile number, email address, Facebook and LinkedIn links, etc. All these will be verified. Then, if you are driving your own car and wish to pick up co-travellers, give details of your journey and other users will get in touch with you. You fix up a meeting point, and are on your way. At the end of the trip, the driver and co-traveller rate each other, which goes into their profiles and affects their chances for the next trip.

The verification is stringent and posts are moderated. If you are a single man looking to travel with pretty girls, you are unlikely to get any ride offers. Worse, you may be removed as a user.

The cost of a trip is calculated on the basis of the fuel consumed and toll paid, and divided by the number of seats in the car. The owner-driver takes the money directly from his passengers. BlaBlaCar and Tripda just bring them together through their website and mobile app and charge nothing for it, for now.

What if one fine day someone in the government says these guys are converting private vehicles into commercial ones without any revenue to the government?

“We had extensive discussions with the regulators before launching our service,” says BlaBlaCar’s Gutpa. “The central as well as state governments talk about encouraging car pooling to reduce fuel consumption and pollution.”