Of travel through apps

  • Madhusheel Arora, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Sep 28, 2014 13:56 IST

Transport and technology are intimately connected. The invention of the wheel was the first step in our travels, besides the good old feet, and since then we have even moved on to the red planet, Mars.

It was inevitable that day-to-day travel would see the use of technology and banking on this is a 2010 San Francisco-based start-up, Uber. The company offers an application on smart phones and claims to deliver connectivity from point A to point B in cities in a cashless manner using the software.

A sort of an e-commerce intervention, the application links drivers to passengers at any point of time. Having launched last year from Bangalore, the company is now present in 10 cities in the country, including Chandigarh.

“We are a technology company that ensures passengers get cabs in the shortest possible time, working to the benefit of all. Privacy is guaranteed as our cars are unmarked. Our focus is on reliability and you can be reasonably sure of a car at your doorstep in eight minutes,” says Neeraj Singal, the company’s man responsible for launch and expansion in the country.

Here’s how the deal works in the city. After downloading the app from the app and registering your credit card details with the company, you can ask for a car with the base fare set at Rs 40. You have to give start and exit points and are charged Rs 12 per km and Rs 1 per minute for the journey. After you exit, you punch a button on your phone and the credit card is charged the fare.

The company refused to discuss a recent RBI directive mandating companies to change the way they accept payments and migrate it a two-step process by October 31 (the Central Bank had not named any specific company). It has hired an Indian School of Business (ISB) graduate for its business in the city and is offering promotional trials.The company does not own cars and does not have any links with driver or any taxi-service, but pays them around three-fourths of the amount logged on every ride. It signs up passengers and drivers separately. This model has ensured that it is valued at around $18-billion, but it reluctance to share operational or revenue details is puzzling.

For me, it could consider allowing debit cards as there are at least 20 times more debit card holders than credit cards in circulation, but this might not have been feasible till now as it used a foreign payment gateway. The RBI circular could be an opportunity to this extent, but will people be willing to keep their savings on a virtual server is also an important question.

However, hard I try, I cannot get over the thought that Uber could yet be the McDonalds’ parallel in its field (however different these may be), due to the ‘somewhat’ disruptive nature of its operations and it could change habits on car-ownership. If you key-in Uber on Google, you will find that it has attracted extreme opinions in geographies it operates in. Its deep-down premise that anybody be a driver, provided his licence, and the vehicle check and papers are in order, has ruffled feathers. Remember, McDonalds offering jobs to our 12th pass students.

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