Mithilesh Kumar from Madhubani, in Bihar, has been using both Ola and Uber. A taxi driver in Delhi, he is a part of both fleets, and owns the car he drives. “Uber aur Ola ne sabko malik bana diya hai (Uber and Ola have made everyone a taxi-owner),” he says.
That was unthinkable before the advent of technology-driven cab aggregators. The market was fragmented between Meru Cabs, Easy Cabs, a plethora of smaller fleet operators, and little groups with a dozen-odd black-and-yellow Ambassadors parked under Peepul trees.
As technology invaded our lives, cab aggregators such as Ola and Taxi for Sure (now in Ola’s fold), came up. Uber came looking to extend its domination of the globe. A true Uberisation of India has not yet happened – in the United States, executives are known to leave their jobs and mature people come out of retirement to become Uber drivers – but enough lives are getting transformed here.
“I was living on a meagre salary. Now I make between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000 a month. I am my own master, and I can take any day off. Above all the payments are on time,” Kumar says.
He is not the only one rejoicing. People dissatisfied with the government’s public transport, a sizeable number, given the state of most cities, breathed a sigh of relief as it became possible to get a cab quickly for a reasonable fare. Now that autorikshaws have also come on mobile apps, and a number of car-pooling apps have come up, the options have multiplied. All you need to do is take out your mobile phone and make a few taps.
The HT-MaRS survey shows a lot of people saying cab-hailing apps provide a more comfortable service than the old buses and local trains. The women, in particular, talk about the heightened security in spite of the reports about cab drivers misbehaving with women.
Ola, the largest, says it has more than 450,000 vehicles in 102 cities – both cars and autorickshaws. Uber, which is in 58 countries, says it has more than 350,000 cars in 27 Indian cities. This entire alternative eco-system has come up in less than five years.
Cab aggregators have innovated to ensure even those who would have to relied on public transport due to costs can also afford their cabs. For instance, both Ola and Uber offer shared rides, which brings the cost down by half or two-thirds. An Ola spokesperson says Ola Share has kept more than 3.7 million vehicles off the road in eight months, and saved 2 million litres of fuel.
Ola, in particular, has been trying its hand, at times unsuccessfully, at things that can be an extension of its central premise of getting you a cab in minutes. For instance, it tried its hand at food delivery. It didn’t work out and Ola was quick to shut it down. But a plethora of other companies have been delivering food ordered on a mobile app or website.
Until two years ago, the food deliverers zipping across city roads carried mostly pizza in oversized hot-packs. Affordable smartphones loaded with over a dozen food-order apps have changed that, and also how Indians eat. Order-in has become a sizeable component of people consuming food not cooked at home.
In the HT-MaRS survey, one in five people said they had ordered food using an app. A third of them said food had become a lot more enjoyable when ordered that way.
Data from the Top 10 Tier 1 cities shows a clear bias for mobile phones while ordering food. The number of orders placed using mobile phones is on an average twice as many as those placed using desktop computers. Tier 2 and 3 cities have also started to tread in the same direction.
The convenience comes at a price: people spend more money on food now. A little more than half of the respondents said expenses on food had gone up “a lot” because of their using smartphones.