Founder of Dial-a-Rickshaw, Mukesh Jha and Janardhan Prasad are IIT graduates from Kanpur. With a mission to make commute system better and reliable, the duo founded Dial-a-Rickshaw system, which caters to both commuters and auto-drivers.
In a chat with The Punekar, they talk about their project Dial-a-Rickshaw and how it will make commuting safe and convenient in Pune.
What inspired you to start Dial-a-Rickshaw facility?
We were looking for opportunities to transition ourselves from being salaried employees to entrepreneurs and new domains like LBS (Location Based Services) got us fascinated. With the growing reach of GPS and related services in India, we wanted to start something new and different in this domain. After doing a lot of market research and brain storming around various ideas that came on the table, we realized that we wanted to start a service that we can build quickly and which has a strong social impact.
Having lived in Pune for a few years, we experienced problems in finding and hiring auto-rickshaws around various parts of Pune, which were new and expanding. Also the night travel used to be very difficult as one was never sure of finding an auto-rickshaw in their neighbourhood. On the contrary, after speaking to a few auto-rickshaw drivers, we realized that they kept complaining of not finding enough customers. So, we saw opportunity in being the connecting layer between auto-rickshaw demand and supply leveraging benefits of GPS, online maps, IT systems and call centre.
What made you launch this project in Pune and how challenging was it?
We adopted this city in 2003 and have strong fascination for Pune. Also we realized that for a service like Dial-a-rickshaw, Pune is a good model city as auto-rickshaw happens to be the only mode of public transport other than PMPML buses. Also this city has one of the highest auto-rickshaw density (Rickshaw’s to population ratio).
We did a lot of surveys with auto rickshaw commuters to understand their expectations from an auto rickshaw ride and also the problems that they faced. Similar surveys were done with auto rickshaw drivers to get their perspective. Getting the right business and finance model was the biggest challenge that we have faced so far. We wanted to have a model that can be adopted quickly by the drivers and is scalable too. We did a pilot last year and realized that we needed to revamp our business model to have better control and quality of auto rickshaw service.
Can you tell our readers, how exactly does Dial-a-Rickshaw function?
Let’s say, a customer wants to go from an Area X to Area Y. The customer needs to call up Autowale customer care (9922904000) and place request for a rickshaw. A request is then generated and an auto-driver in area X is informed about the same. Once the auto driver confirms about the pick-up and availability, the details of the driver and vehicle are sent out to customer via SMS. Post the commute, customer will receive a call from our end to get their feedback.
[pullquote_right]Our rickshaw drivers are currently undergoing training on customer service skills. At the same time they are also taught English language and behaviour skills and body language.[/pullquote_right]
How has the response been from both commuters and auto drivers?
We have had very good response from both commuters and auto drivers. Finding first five drivers was very challenging. But now, after having been operational for over a month, we are getting huge requests from driver community to join our system. There is an overwhelming response from the commuters as well. However, one slight concern is that currently our request are coming from selected areas only, with few trips coming from the southern part of the city, which goes against the basic model we have been working on. Looking at this, now we are working on having uniformly distributed trip requests so that we can reduce empty running of our auto rickshaws.
How many rickshaws are currently parts of this project?
Currently we have around 25 rickshaws in our project and we are slowly and steadily building our fleet parallel to the growth in the demand of our service.
For any auto driver to be a part of this project, are there any criteria they need to meet?
Before enrolling any auto driver in our system, we make sure their rickshaws runs on CNG; have legal permit, badge and driving license. Legal vehicle documents related to passing, PUC, tax, etc. is also a must. The drivers need to be mobile phone literate and speak Marathi and Hindi. Acceptable behavioural skill is also something we stress on.
[pullquote_right]Also we realized that for a service like Dial-a-rickshaw, Pune is a good model city as auto-rickshaw happens to be the only mode of public transport other than PMPML buses.[/pullquote_right]
Almost every Punekar has been a victim of rude auto driver and tampered meter. At Dial-a-Rickshaw how do you ensure that commuters don’t face any such problems?
Our rickshaw drivers are currently undergoing training on customer service skills. At the same time they are also taught English language and behaviour skills and body language. We are sure that commuters will find our auto rickshaw drivers very enthusiastic and friendly. We use online maps and know approximately the distance of all trips. We have experienced that our auto rickshaw meters show nearly the same reading that the online maps show. Our customers also haven’t experienced any tampered meter problems with our rickshaws. At the time when the auto rickshaw joins us, we make sure that the vehicle passing is done, which also includes meter passing by RTO.
Commuters have almost lost faith in Pune’s rickshawallas, how do you think Dial-a-Rickshaw will help change this?
We understand the perspective of commuters for such beliefs and our rickshaw drivers are committed to change this into a highly satisfying auto rickshaw ride. Customers have already started experiencing the presence of “Autowale” and are satisfied with the service quality of our drivers.
Do you plan to expand this facility in other cities?
Our plan is to expand our customer base to at-least 1000 requests per day by end of March 2012. Beginning next financial year, we plan to target other cities. Our bigger vision is to get into alliances with airlines, bus services, trains. We are also looking forward to partnerships with event organizing agencies. In a nutshell we are ready to partner with anybody who needs people to commute within the city.