In­dia’s boom­ing taxi-app firms en­dure bumpy ride


In­dia’s ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive app­based taxi- hail­ing mar­ket has quickly be­come a multi­bil­lionU.S.-dollar in­dus­try, but con­tro­versy sur­round­ing safety, re­jected li­cences and protest­ing cab­bies threat­ens to slam the brakes on its spec­tac­u­lar rise.

Do­mes­tic com­pany Ola Cabs and U.S.-based Uber are boom­ing, fu­elled by a ris­ing num­ber of pro­fes­sion­als want­ing an easy-to­book, clean and air-con­di­tioned cab in In­dia’s rapidly grow­ing and con­gested cities.

“We have barely scratched the sur­face. We need to be in ev­ery cor­ner of In­dia and it is a huge coun­try, so the po­ten­tial is huge,” Ola spokesman Anand Subra­ma­nian told AFP.

But it hasn’t been a com­pletely smooth ride, with In­dian au­thor­i­ties re­ject­ing Uber and Ola’s ap­pli­ca­tions to op­er­ate in New Delhi, even im­pound­ing their cars, and both firms fac­ing an­gry protests from tra­di­tional taxi driv­ers.

Ola Cabs has soared from fledg­ling In­ter­net startup to the leader of In­dia’s smart­phone tax­i­hir­ing in­dus­try in just five years and is now worth an es­ti­mated US$2 bil­lion.

It re­cently bought up do­mes­tic com­peti­tor Tax­i­For­Sure for a re­ported US$200 mil­lion and is also out­per­form­ing web and mo­bile app-based ri­val Meru Cabs in a crowded mar­ket­place.

Pri­vate but of­ten shoddy and un­com­fort­able cabs have long plied In­dia’s no­to­ri­ously ve­hi­cle-an­dan­i­mal-con­gested roads, fill­ing a void cre­ated by patchy and un­re­li­able public trans­port net­works.

But in 2010, two young en­tre- preneurs in Mumbai — Bhav­ish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati — de­cided that In­dia’s tech-savvy and wealthy mid­dle-classes wanted the con­ve­nience of a com­fort­able ride with just a cou­ple of clicks of their smartphones.

They founded Ola and started op­er­at­ing with only a hand­ful of ve­hi­cles be­fore in­creas­ing the num­ber of cars on its net­work to 10,000, across ten cities, by last year.

An ag­gres­sive re­cruit­ment drive over the past 12 months has re­sulted in its op­er­a­tions ris­ing more than ten­fold and Ola now op­er­ates 150,000 ve­hi­cles in 100 cities stretch­ing the length and breadth of In­dia.

Ola notched 200,000 rides a day in Jan­uary and pre­dicts it will record over a mil­lion a day this month. They have also started to of­fer auto-rick­shaws for hire and are to as well.

It doesn’t own the ma­jor­ity of the cars it­self but helps driv­ers ac­quire loans which are then re­paid in small sums.

Some of those driv­ers joined hun­dreds of oth­ers work­ing for Ola and Uber at a demon­stra­tion in New Delhi on Mon­day, say­ing the city gov­ern­ment’s crack­down on the in­dus­try had forced them off the roads.

Driv­ers said po­lice had been im­pound­ing their cars, forc­ing them to pay fines and go to court to get them back, ru­in­ing their liveli­hoods af­ter lo­cal au­thor­i­ties started to put pres­sure on the com­pa­nies fol­low­ing their de­fi­ance of a state-wide ban.

The com­pa­nies were banned in the cap­i­tal in De­cem­ber af­ter an Uber driver was ac­cused of rap­ing a woman pas­sen­ger in a case that


de­liv­er­ing gro­ceries

sparked a na­tion­wide up­roar.

‘An hon­est job’

But they re­sumed op­er­a­tions in Jan­uary even though the gov­ern­ment re­jected their ap­pli­ca­tions for a li­cense to op­er­ate.

“We are do­ing an hon­est job, there is 100 per­cent trans­parency here, why are we be­ing treated like crim­i­nals?” said Pet­rick Wil­liam, 35, whose car was im­pounded.

Driv­ers told of bor­row­ing heav­ily to buy their cars so that they could drive for Uber and Ola, al­low­ing them to build their own busi­ness and earn more money than work­ing for regular In­dian taxi com­pa­nies.

“This is hon­est money that we are mak­ing. And for the first time in our lives, we can send our chil­dren to good schools, pay our rent on time, some­thing we have never had be­fore,” Wil­liam said.

“Why are they tak­ing that away from us?”

Delhi’s Ola and Tax­i­For­Sure driv­ers were given an re­prieve last week when the High Court over­turned the gov­ern­ment’s ban. Uber has now filed a sim­i­lar pe­ti­tion in the court in the hope of win­ning a sim­i­lar rul­ing.

Subra­ma­nian, Ola’s spokesman, said his com­pany planned to hire 50,000 women driv­ers over the next three years to ease safety fears among fe­male pas­sen­gers.

“It would also cre­ate work for those women who oth­er­wise do not get those op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he added.

Ola al­ready uses an in­ves­tiga­tive agency to look into can­di­dates’ back­ground to en­sure their suit­abil­ity while Uber has also tight­ened up its se­cu­rity checks fol­low­ing the al­leged rape.


Com­muters wait for a train be­low an ad­ver­tise­ment for an app-based taxi-hail­ing ser­vice on a rail­way plat­form in Mumbai on Tues­day, June 9.

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