In India, public transport, motorcycles, rickshaws and private cars have been the primary modes of transport. However, in the last few years, due to a major growth in the average mobile app usage, there is an upsurge in taxi and rickshaw-hailing apps. The growth is mainly driven by the increased use of smartphones and this is changing the way smartphone users’ travel within the cities, but the main question is – will this growth in mobility apps redefine the urban transportation landscape in India?
Mobility challenges faced by India
Like any other country, India is also facing various mobility challenges such as significant rise in urbanization, traffic congestion, fuel prices, pollution, road accidents and health issues. Public transport has not been able to cope with the increased travel demand – buses and trains are overcrowded and these public transit services have reduced the productivity of commuters as they spend hours stuck in the traffic. In most cities, public transit is unreliable and inaccessible making traveling an unpleasant and inconvenient experience.
Due to this, despite the heavy traffic, most Indians prefer to drive. Moreover, the tremendous shift from a lower to middle-class as a result of strong economic success, along with rising salary scales, banking systems liberalizing and aggressively marketed bank loans, the number of cars being sold per year has gone up exponentially.
Attracting this group of people to use public transport and other ride-hailing and carpooling services that are gaining popularity in India, even though it makes the most sense is very difficult. In the last five years, it seems like – the attitude, especially of urban commuters is changing. This is mainly due to the mobility challenges faced by Indians and the emergence of mobility apps like taxi and rickshaw-hailing services.
The increased usage of mobile apps
The average mobile app usage has grown exponentially by around 130 percent. This growth is mainly driven by the increased use of smartphones coupled with low mobile tariffs and mobile internet.
According to a report published by The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and KPMG, by 2017, the number of mobile internet users is expected to rise to 314 million – India has the second largest internet user base in the world. The growth is not only evident in urban areas, but also in rural parts of India.
Taxi-hailing services in India
In the last five years, the taxi-app sector has gained huge popularity owing to the many start-ups (international and domestic) that have entered the Indian market. In earlier days, people had to call service providers or thrust out their hand on the street to hail a cab, but now with mobile apps, one can book a cab at the touch of a button.
Bengaluru-based online cab aggregator started their operations in 2010 and they have been the market leaders in the Indian taxi-app market with around 80 percent in market shares. They provide different services from economic to luxury travel and have around 350,000 vehicles on their platform from regular taxis, high-end vehicles to rickshaws.
In order to stay ahead in the game, they recently introduced a carpooling service that allows customers to share their journeys with others and they also have an option that match customers with people from their own social groups (colleagues, friends and relatives can come together to share rides). A user has the possibility to join multiple groups or can simply choose to share a ride with anyone.
They also cater to the business sector through their corporate service. This service allows employees to directly bill the employer rather than going through the re-imbursement process and all a user has to do is choose “corporate ride” on the app. They recently acquired another Bengaluru-based taxi aggregator company and now provide a facility to book a cab by phone, through the website and via the mobile app.
One of the American international transportation network companies existing since 2009 entered the Indian market two years ago. They offer more or less the same services as that of the Bengaluru-based start-up. However, they have encountered some legal and safety issues, especially after the rape incident in New Delhi. Recently, they suspended their on-demand rickshaw-hailing service in Delhi in order to solve some specific problems.
After months of legal battles over rising concerns for the safety of women passengers, the Indian government has drafted new rules to regulate web-based ride-hailing firms.
According to the six page advisory, companies should provide round-the-clock call centers, taxis should follow emission norms, an extensive background checks of drivers is required and all vehicles should be equipped with emergency safety buttons and in-app features that will allow passengers to make calls to the police.
Rickshaw-hailing services in India
Mobile apps are not only improving the taxi services, but also Indian rickshaws. India is the only country where taxi-hailing apps can be used to summon rickshaws as well.
Rickshaws have been a major means of transport to get around within cities (mainly short distances) – accounting for around 20 percent of the motorized trips in some major metropolitan cities. Unlike any other transportation mode, rickshaws also face certain challenges such as reliability, accessibility, their inability to identify supply and demand in real-time and they have no predefined and clear pricing structure.
The recent advancements in rickshaw-hailing apps seems to be solving these pressing issues. A Pune-based start-up has built the world’s first three-wheel-ride aggregator which relies on GPS, smartphones and basic technology that can run on regular phones. Customers can request a ride through their website, an app or the traditional way, by calling their call center. They have provided more than half-a-million rides to middle-class commuters and this was possible only because of their low-fares, convenience and comfort.
There are various other players in the rickshaw-hailing market. Rickshaw-hailing services not only provide benefits to commuters such as fair pricing, reliability and accessibility, but also to drivers – they have the possibility to improve their earnings and reduce idle time.
As people are becoming more smartphone-dependent to plan their daily commute, there is an opportunity for the Indian government and other privately-operated companies to improve the daily commuting experience. There are various private authorities, who are initiating and spreading the benefits of such services. With the aid from government and other organizations, there is a distinct possibility that ride-hailing schemes can have a strong foothold in India.
Do you use your smartphone to plan your daily commute? If so, what kind of mobility apps do you use? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.