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BW Businessworld

Backseat Driving

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How you travel in your city is changing fast. A few years ago, you either had your own vehicle or relied on public transport. Hiring a vehicle was a difficult proposition, especially one that you could use like your own. And the hiring costs were prohibitive.
 
Today, owning a car is affordable, but running it is painful. Cabs, on the other hand, are now an affordable personal transport option. While the availability issue is easily solved through aggregation of various players (organised and unorganised), we see a behavioural change happening — people  preferring taxis to driving their own cars in the light of increasing traffic, high maintenance costs of cars and, last but not the least, the ever-increasing fuel costs.
 
We have an entire segment of customers who use our cab services everyday to commute to work. When we listen to their feedback and views, we hear them tell us that they want every aspect of their transport options outsourced. And it is not just professionals who want to this done in the interest of  better productivity. The housewife who goes shopping on an average afternoon would also like her transport needs taken care of by others. 
 
We expect 2013 to be more about making travel reliable, convenient and efficient for you. Five quick trends on where things are likely to see a change. 
 
Car Pool
The next decade will belong to those who provide more commute options — be it a cab made available from a local garage or from an organised player. The supply process will be similar to the crowdsourcing model where inventory is pooled to gain maximum mileage. This is because there are numerous small operators who own maybe just 3-4 cabs, and do not have the ability to reach out to prospective customers. 
 
An average local cab owner works on a meagre 40 per cent capacity, even though there is a lot of demand for cabs on any given day. In future, umbrella brands and aggregators will not only utilise this unused capacity but also make it easy for consumers to book a cab. 
 
The cab rental space will also see a revolution similar to what the airline ticketing space saw a few years ago. The main ‘driver’ behind this will be technology — specifically, the Internet. As a customer, you are going to have more choice in personal transport, and 
easy availability. 
 
Captive Options
The sheer number of self-driven cars to work is a huge opportunity for economical and efficient commuting options. In the past decade, unorganised car pools did start off, but could not be sustained since catering to everyone’s routines proved difficult. However, we see this changing with workplaces as well as start-ups taking the lead in organising and even monetising this model. 
 
There is a high possibility of organised players coming into this market; this will make your daily commute not just more convenient, it will also be an enjoyable experience. Moreover, this will also address serious concerns like safety given the added element of known fellow travellers. Imagine going to work everyday in an air-conditioned cab, with your friends, at a convenient time, and then picked up from work at a time of your choice — all of these services at prices cheaper than auto-rickshaw fares.
 
Big On Convenience
With time, there will be more public transport options, but the convenience of using cabs as ‘personal transport’ is set to be the next big thing. Gone will be the pains of booking a cab through a call centre after being put on hold, then giving detailed directions and suffering last-minute shocks of delays and cancellations. 
 
The Internet and mobile phones can change the way taxis are booked and paid for. Mobile apps on smartphones, GPS-enabled pick-up identification, auto-card payments, etc., will make cab usage convenient and hassle-free for you. 
 
Given the extent of smartphone penetration and the use of 3G or Internet on phones, these trends will begin to make more sense to the average Indian.

Taking Control
With the demand for cabs as personal transport growing, it is critical that the user has complete control over bookings. Knowing where your cab is and how much time it will take to reach you — all of this information will help you plan better, and make your trip smoother. GPS-enabled automation in cabs will completely eliminate ambiguity and minimise human interaction. The ability to track vehicles real-time will help ensure the safety of your family and friends, and thus increase your faith in the cabs as a mode of personal transport and make them a preferred option. Also, this will pass on the control to you, the customer, ensuring that you are never taken for a ride; well, not literally!
 
A Quality Ride
Well-maintained cars, trained drivers, electronic billing — all of these and more will become the order of the day. With numerous transportation options mushrooming, including public initiatives like the metro rail systems now coming up in various cities, the overall expectation from personal transportation, especially cab services, will skyrocket. Quality is going to take the front-seat in every ride and will be a default expectation from your taxi service provider.
 
We are likely to see a range of innovations from service providers that address specific concerns — women users’ safety, wi-fi connectivity, and maybe even in-cab gourmet. While these will be received well as features, the year ahead will witness a sea change in terms of focused offerings in the personal transport space. While most of these are likely to be driven by technology, you as a customer can sit back and expect a good ride on the road.
 
The author is co-founder and CEO of Olacabs.com

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 14-01-2013)