Swati Singh was bracing herself for the morning toil to find an autorickshaw when her tenant’s domestic help stopped her at the gate of her house. “Didi, why don’t you call this number? They will send you an auto right here.”
It was hot. Sector 122 in Noida, where Singh lives, is not yet a bustling locality. To go to Amity University, where she is a BBA student, she would have to walk 20 minutes to find an auto, then haggle for fare. She dialled the number of City Ride Travels given by the help.
It took less than a minute to book the auto. In the next minute, she received a text message with details of the driver and auto. Four more minutes later, they had arrived. When she reached Amity, another text told her how much to pay, which was less than what she used to after much haggling. The driver accepted it without a fuss.
“I use the service three to four times a week,” says Singh.
City Ride Travels is one of several outfits that have mushroomed to aggregate autos. You can book one through their mobile app, website, or by calling their call centre. And they are not focused on the big cities alone. City Ride does it in Noida and Ghaziabad, Telerickshaw in Indore, Chalogekya and Jugnoo in Jaipur, Jugnoo again in Chandigarh, G-Auto in Ahmedabad, Autowale in Pune, Makkal Auto in Chennai, and mGaadi in Bangalore.
With app-enabled auto services mushrooming across the country, the Hindustan Times reporters test the waters and take a ride. Here is how it went:
Chennai: A touch of vermillion on the forehead brightened the smile of Sudhakar Saikumar, a driver with Makkal Auto Service, which started a year ago. “The RTO detained me to issue a certificate we have to paste on the windscreen,” said Saikumar, explaining his 30-minute delay.
The 12km ride from Adyar in south Chennai to Chepauk Stadium ended with Saikumar reading out the meter: Rs 118.50. That was all he wanted. To someone often defeated by the attitude of Chennai’s auto drivers, it was a shock.
It works for Saikumar too. He drives Makkal’s auto for 13 hours a day, and makes up to Rs 1,500 on a good one after paying for fuel. Of that, Makkal takes Rs 300.
Jaipur: The Chalogekya app kept insisting I check my mobile number, which I did. It was correct, but the app wouldn’t accept it. So I tried Jugnoo. With the third tap on the screen, a message arrived: “Nearest driver five minutes away.”
“Jugnoo auto, sir,” driver Nirmal Singh called. “Do minute mein aap ke paas aa raha hoon, sir.” He did come in two minutes, tapped on the mobile above the speedometer to mark the start of our journey, and we were off.
Singh joined Jugnoo four months ago and gets 10 to 15 bookings on it every day. He doesn’t have to wander around looking for passengers or argue for fares.
The fare was a surprise — half of what a routine auto would have charged. The bigger surprise was that Singh showed it to me on his mobile with a laugh. No arguments.
Bengaluru: It took less than five minutes to download the mGaadi app. After booking the first ride from Church Street to Mayo Hall, I received a confirmation text with the auto’s registration number, driver’s name and mobile number. Within minutes, driver Ashwath Kumar called to say he was ready to start the trip.
Kumar has been with m Gaadi for over a year. A third of his daily earning comes from it, another third from Ola Cabs, which has a similar service, and the rest from passengers he picks up on his own.
The ride to Mayo Hall cost Rs 40. The app download came with a discount offer of Rs 50. So Kumar refused to take any money and got busy calling his next customer, who was waiting in the vicinity.
Indore: Usman Qureshi, 35, is glad he joined the Tele Rikshaw network of 5,000 autos. “I earn more and don’t sit idle at auto stands. Haggling with customers has ended.” He has also attended grooming classes.
The 7.7km ride from Indore railway station to Vijaynagar cost Rs 87. In other autos, it could cost anywhere from Rs 120 and Rs 150. Karanvir Singh, who launched the service, says this is the only cab or auto-hailing service that is a public-private partnership. Tele Rickshaw has an agreement with Atal Indore City Transport Services, whose CEO is a government official.
Chandigarh: The auto arrived within 10 minutes of booking on Jugnoo. “All of us are linked with GPS and we get requests for picking up the nearest passenger,” said driver Virendra Kumar, who joined the network six months ago. He likes it because he no longer has to wait for passengers. The passenger feels secure because the auto can be tracked and the driver wears an identity card.
The fare is fixed: a minimum of Rs 14, and Rs 4 a km and Rs 1 a minute thereafter. These rise after 10 in the night till 7am to a starting fare of Rs 21 and then Rs 6 for every subsequent kilometre and Rs 1.5 per minute.