Ola Auto brings out the best in autorickshaw drivers

The problem was that Rikshaw drivers were rude, refused fares, did not ply short distances, and begged or bullied you for extra money at late nights.


Ola Auto launched in Thane last week, and I decided to check it out. I used to avoid rickshaws like the plague, and only hailed one in an emergency. I had no problems waiting for a bus, and absolutely enjoyed taking long walks, an activity that was vastly improved by the release of Pokémon GO. The problem was that rickshaw drivers were rude, refused fares, did not ply short distances, and begged or bullied you for extra money at late nights. It was not a pleasant experience at all. It was not uncommon to come across drivers who behaved like hooligans.

The transport situation is pretty bad in Thane station. Vehicles driven by people with stone age sensibilities choke up the access routes and create traffic. There are lines as long as a Lannister host for any mode of transport out of the station, for buses, rickshaws or even shared rickshaws. This particular Dussehra week was particularly horrendous. There were two major celebrations near the Thane Railway Station, one at Gaodevi maidan and another near Talao Pali.

Rides are not always available

Rides are not always available

The roads were blocked, and autorickshaw drivers were not coming anywhere near the station because all the roads were choked, and as a result the lines were even longer than usual. Ola Auto improved the situation vastly, and was launched at just the right time. The first day, I found a rickshaw from Talao Pali. I felt a little guilty because of all the people standing in the impossibly long lines. This was not possible on the subsequent days, as there were no autos available.

not-always-available

This is how it works. You have to download and register with the Ola app. There is a list of vehicles available, which are various types of cabs. Near the end of the list, before rentals and outstation rides, there is the option for the Auto. You select the auto, the pick up location is automatically detected. Then you put in the drop location. You can tap on either the pick up or drop location to change it, which can be done through search or physically manipulating a pin on a map. You then get a prompt to confirm the ride, and the app scans for rickshaws around you.

The service was intermittent at times.

The service was intermittent at times.

The process was a little slow on my Vodafone 4G connection. About three minutes from start to end, mostly interrupted by loading times of the map, and the scanning for a driver willing to ferry the route you have picked. At times, after all the effort, it just shows that there are no rides available. If there are no autos nearby, you cannot even start the process, so this means that there are Ola autos around who are not willing to go on that particular route. So that is one problem that Ola has not solved, and rickshaw drivers continue to refuse shares as per their convenience.

Drivers still refuse fares.

Drivers still refuse fares.

The availability of Ola Autos becomes scarce in remote locations, and later in the night. This is still the start of the service, and the availability of rickshaws may get better as more drivers sign up for the app. For those navigating in unfamiliar routes, the maps does not always take you over the best route. I used local knowledge of the area to take a rickshaw from a route that was drastically different from the one suggested by Google.

shanti-nagar-no-ola-auto

Autos not available in out of the way locations

Calling the driver before hand is a convenience. When they arrive, you are already informed about them because of the phone introductions. Their names are displayed, along with a picture if the driver has fed one into the system. You can track the rickshaw in real time, as it is arriving, and during the ride. There is an estimated arrival time as well. Once the transit starts, there is a one touch panic button on screen.

The one touch SOS button

The one touch SOS button

On the sixth day, I met a very polite driver who had just joined the service on that day itself. He was struggling a bit because he had not yet purchased a stand for the smartphone. The distance I wanted to go was very short, less than a kilometer. His rickshaw stopped right next to the tea stall I was sitting at, and I got in, went home. He was exceedingly polite, and gave me a five star rating, saying that I was a good customer. I gave him a five star rating too. The rating system is an incentive for good behavior, and there were no unnecessary exchanges with rickshaws asking them to ply a short distance.

Estimated arrival time is shown. This was a short ride.

Estimated arrival time is shown. This was a short ride.

Ola Auto actually made me want to use autorickshaws much more. Not all unions are on it, and one thing that Ola can implement is add the facility for shared autos as well. I spoke to a share auto driver, and he said that Ola will not work on rickshaws because of the low margins that rickshaw drivers make. I am not sure if he knew about the fifteen rupee service charge for every trip on Ola Auto, an amount I am willing to shell out for even small trips for the pleasant experience and the convenience.


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