I booked a taxi in Chennai last week using the traditional call taxi operator – which means that I called the phone numbers for a specific taxi operator that I have used in the past and booked the cab for a specific time of pickup from my home. The cab did arrive at the appointed time (some 15 minutes after the taxi driver verified my home address), and I used the same for some six hours of work. Such a service offering in taxi parlance is called “a package booking”.
I had a chat with the driver (who I used for the next couple of days as well), who was smart and knowledgeable. He made a few points – that the call taxi service has become extremely competitive with the arrival of OLA, an innovative taxi operator from Mumbai. All taxi operators are being challenged by the new ideas that OLA has been rapidly bringing to the market. OLA does not have the “package booking” concept, but both of us agreed that it is only a question of time before OLA launches that service as well. The driver had a smartphone (!) and even advised me about the best shop to get a smartphone bargain ! I did buy a smartphone to replace my old Samsung mobile phone (not a smart one), and I bought that phone in flat 15 minutes. When I came back to the car, the driver commended me for buying a Lenovo smartphone !! He said that Lenovo is moving fast in the market. Amazing insight from a taxi driver ! This is India.
Later, I used OLA shared mini cab – an innovative concept which allows you to search and book a “mini” cab (a Tata Indica usually) on a shared basis. The OLA app tells you how much you have to pay before you even start the journey (which is usually 50% of the usual fare) and once you pay that fare, the cab proceeds to your destination. On the way, there may be other OLA users looking for a similar cab, and if one finds this specific cab via his OLA app, then you have to share the cab with him/her. Typically this would mean a delay of some 10 minutes. I used the shared cab facility twice, and during both times, there was no other person who shared the cab with me. This would mean that I got to use the cab at a 50% discount and got to keep it for myself.
The OLA driver this time was even more knowledgeable, he was also polished and professional. He explained the nitty gritty of the OLA app, and explained how the whole system works ! I was impressed. He said that once he accepts the app request from any user, he cannot but turn up for picking up. There are strict customer service rules that OLA has imposed. I asked him about Uber, and he said that while they are more relaxed, the service is yet to catch on. The cab drivers have to wait for a week to receive their discount compensation, whereas OLA pays them in 48 hours.
I gained good insight into the taxi operation in Chennai, and I believe it is the same elsewhere in the country. There is a revolution going on in transportation in India. I even used the OLA auto rickshaw service, offered only by OLA. The auto drivers have been provided with smartphones by OLA and the rest of the process is the same like cab service. For frequent auto users, it is a godsend as it completely eliminates haggling with the intractable Chennai auto rickshaw drivers for a flat additional fee of INR 10 on top of the auto fare. Very welcome, and I could always find a OLA auto somewhere nearby, and they always turn up for the pickup. No haggling, no unreasonable demands, they even return the change ! If this change can be wrought on Chennai auto rickshaw drivers, then India can achieve anything via social media.
Overall, my experience using the OLA app on smartphone has been a pleasant and mostly successful one – I say that because the network can sometimes fail you while searching for a cab or an auto. Then you are back to square one. The Vodafone 3G network was not good enough in Chennai, so I had to switch to Airtel 3G once, and it worked flawlessly. Vodafone – take note. I am speaking from direct end-user experience. I thought I will use Vodafone on my overseas mobile phone and Airtel on my India smartphone, but eventually I switched both to Airtel. Kudos Airtel !
Well, welcome to India free of auto haggling experience on the road. Buy the data pack of 500 MB for your smartphone at INR 150 (USD 2.5) per month ! You cannot get any cheaper than this, and the prices keep falling.
Enjoy app based services. More such blog posts on other stuff will follow.
8th February 2016