Fifth Metro: Upstart startupshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/fifth-metro-upstart-startups/

Fifth Metro: Upstart startups

New transport apps in Bangalore are changing the way people commute

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New transport apps in Bangalore are changing the way people commute.

If there ever was a transport ecosystem ripe for disruption, it has to be Bangalore’s. The youthful city is growing at supersonic speed and has much going for it. But it has had the bad fortune of being governed by successive administrations, including the current one, which are completely bankrupt in both the ideas and the execution departments. These governments have been of every political hue — from the Congress (current) to the BJP (previous) and the Janata Dal (earlier). The common thread is the lack of enthusiasm for addressing the metropolis’ problems and also their alacrity in milking it through corruption. None of these governments even began addressing Bangalore’s commute challenges.

So, like Londoners discuss weather, Bangalore residents have resigned themselves to whining about the traffic.

Perhaps a disorder wrought by technology can solve the city’s mobility challenges? Bangalore is at the very start of that.

Until a few years ago, the toss-up for the city’s commuters was between overcrowded city buses and eccentric, sometimes-greedy autorickshaw drivers. On rainy evenings, commuters asked auto drivers where they wished to go and what they wanted to charge for the ride, rather than the other way round. For upper-middle class workers who could afford it, buying a car seemed the only option, despite having to drive through bad roads and dreadful traffic.

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About two years ago, on-demand cab providers Ola and Uber began the change with their mobile app offerings. Cabs became available at all times of day and night within minutes of tapping a mobile app, and the pricing was competitive with three-wheeler autorickshaws. One advertised a cab service for every type of need — to meet a friend living 10 minutes away, for a business meeting, to ride in style, and a bigger vehicle option for a large group. If you expected to get stuck in traffic, a  wifi-enabled cab facilitated working or browsing on the go. In turn, autorickshaw drivers and cab-fleet owners were forced to up their own game.

Now, the startups are taking it to the next level in Bangalore by launching social ride-sharing on their apps. By sharing their ride, commuters can split costs without compromising on convenience and, at the same time, increase utilisation and reduce the number of vehicles on the road, bringing down congestion and pollution. To ensure privacy, travellers can commute with users from their own social groups (colleagues from a workplace, college friends) rather than share rides with strangers.

Again in Bangalore, one transport app startup has launched air-conditioned maxicabs replete with audio-visual entertainment options for shared commuting in areas where technology workers live and work. Another has launched private wifi enabled shuttle buses in Bangalore last month. A ride from one point to the other costs a mere

Rs 29 now, though these prices may not last. GPS-enabled vehicles help travellers keep track of the waiting time before the arrival of their ride. Bangalore seems to be headed for the unthinkable — a surfeit of safe, efficient and affordable urban commute options. Meanwhile, the government-run city transport company, whose business is getting hit by the upstarts, is accusing them of violating the Motor Vehicles Act. The government needs to clear the regulatory haziness around transport issues rather than put superfluous speed bumps on the road.

By innovating constantly, technology companies are changing the economics of commuting within cities. Most importantly, they are providing reliable, efficient and affordable commute options. It is hard to imagine that such innovations have helped many urban Indians rethink car ownership and move to the idea that personal cars are dispensable and passé. All this is becoming a reality in Bangalore. Things are by no means perfect yet but a hopeful start has been made. There is surely a largescale urban transport revolution waiting to happen. As they say, picture abhi baaki hai, dost.

saritha.rai@expressindia.com