Cabs for women, by women: Could Ola succeed where others have failed?
Ola cabs might be planning make their services more women-friendly by launching a line of 'by women, for women' cabs. That sounds like a welcome idea except these services already exist but don't have the resources to actually be reliable, available and useful to women.
G-cabs, one of the taxi companies operating in Gurgaon lists the following as a perk of availing their services: "A Panic button, at both the passenger's and chauffeur's end- assuring a safe journey." In the aftermath of the Uber rape case, this seems like an extremely helpful feature for a taxi service to have. However, what it also points out is that some of the solutions women are looking for in terms of safe travel are already available - at least on paper. There are at least four cab operators in the NCR region which offer women-only services - Vira, Priyadarshini, G-cabs, Sakha - however, people still tend to resort to services like Ola and Uber. A report on The Times of India today points out that Ola cabs now plan to make their services more women-friendly by launching a line of 'by women, for women' cabs. The move comes after threats of banning cab aggregating services like those of Uber and Ola.
The same report answers the question as to why, despite the existence of several all-women cab services, women have to avail other services despite knowing the risks involved. "While millions of dollars have been pumped in by investors like Japan's Softbank into new-age cab aggregators like Ola, the women-only cab companies have found it tough going due to lack of funding" the report states.
Another article published on Quartz following the Uber tragedy pointed out how the services of these women-only cab companies were dodgy and unavailable at most times. The real problem plaguing these services, pointed out Revathi Roy who started the now defunct Forsche, was lack of funding that translates into lack of services. Quoting Roy, "Unlike popular radio taxi companies like Meru or Easy Cabs that can afford to buy 500 cars at a time, Roy said women-centered taxi services start with minimal seed money and capital, operating more like non-profits or social enterprises than business ventures. That’s true of both Sakha and Priyadarshini, a Mumbai-based taxi company started by Susieben Shah, a politician, that currently operates with 25 cars."
Roy, who worked as an independent cab driver for 10 months, started the service in 2007 which eventually shut down. "It’s been very difficult to get all types of licenses for our drivers. The transport department says it follows the same policies with men and women but it doesn't work like that in practice. We’ve helped around 250 women get different licenses and I can say 95% couldn’t have got them on their own. Is this not an example of a clear gender bias?," Meenu Vadera, who heads Sakha Consulting Wings, tells The Wall Street Journal.
Sakha, which ferries tourists around, has 11 drivers who can be hired for the purpose. The WSJ reports that they have another 49 drivers who work as personal drivers. Sakha's services, however, don't work like other typical cab services where you can book a taxi with a few taps on your smartphone. The process of booking them takes longer and there is no assurance that you will get a driver, given the small fleet they work with.
The again, a 2012 article on The Seattle Globalist noted how for services like G-cabs women drivers are available only before 8pm in Delhi. "A new cab service called GCabs has 10 women-only cabs alongside its regular ones, but sends its female drivers home before 8 p.m," the article states. That defeats one of the primary safety objectives.
It is evident, therefore, that though there have been efforts to make travel safer for women with women-only cabs, corporate apathy to the same, have crippled them. The doubts over the profitability of an enterprise which only works for women and with women has kept away big investments, making it difficult for the services to hold up against big-moneyed behemoths which employ male cab drivers predominantly. Given that such a service will be restricted to just women, thereby, making the playing field restricted too, corporate houses have shunned the services.
The Times of India report says that Ola has refused to give an official confirmation about the launch of the women-only cab service. However, what they did confirm is that they are tightening security arrangements: " We are pro-actively getting GPS devices fitted in every car in addition to the phone based GPS device we already have. We have also initiated thorough background verification checks for every driver on the platform and are working with local police authorities to complete this very soon."
Some service providers like Meru are also in the process of putting a biometric background check procedure in place, reports DNA.
The corporate disinterest in the women-only cab industry does not mean the services are doomed to failure. SheTaxi has been operating successfully in Kerala post its launch in May this year even though its fleet is small. "She Taxis have been getting an encouraging response from Kochi and the total earning during the first six days was put at Rs 31,561. Since only eight cabs are in service, we are unable to meet the demand. On the first day of service (May 20), the total earning was Rs 4,395 while it registered a sharp increase in six days and on May 26, the total amount earned was put at Rs 7,472,” P.T.M Sunish, who heads the project initiated by GenderPark under the Kerala government Department of Social Justice, told Deccan Chronicle.
SheTaxi is also a 24x7 cab service and comes with 'Personal emergency alert switches to The She Forces, passengers inside car'. Maybe, high time investors took note?
While women-only companies struggle to find funding and sustainability, perhaps a larger company offering for women-by women cabs as part of their array of services might have better luck if they are serious about it. In which case, if Ola really launches a woman-friendly service, it could be on the right path.
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