Android-enabled tablets that have GPS, location-based ads that offer information on restaurants and a slew of autos driven by women for women…Makkal Auto’s service makes for an interesting story

It’s the Paris Hilton of autos. In one word... a diva. Makkal Auto is all fancy with all its tuk tuks fixed with Android-enabled tablets that have GPS/GPRS Vehicle Tracking System and... hold your breath... entertainment! Its primary USP though is providing autos driven by women for women.

Makkal Auto was started by Mansoor Ali Khan, and in the 10 days since the service’s formal launch there have already been quite a few happy tales. As of now the company has 100 autos, of which 25 are driven by women. These take only women passengers. “All our autos adhere to the fare fixed by the Government. Their movement is monitored at our call centre. In the event of a vehicle taking a detour we can always question the driver,” says Mansoor adding that soon the company will have around 500 autos.

‘Beware of autos in Chennai’, an uncomplimentary post on a travel website, got Mansoor thinking. “From a tech perspective there hasn’t been much done for autos. I looked into that aspect and came up with something that will change the way the auto service is looked upon in our city,” he says. So Makkal Auto teamed up with Terratech, a Singapore-based company that’s come up with the required tech support. “This technology is being used in New York and Singapore and we wanted to introduce it here. After working on the technology, I spent three more months to cater to Mansoor’s specifications for the Chennai market,” says Varadharajan. K, founder and CEO, Terratech.

What do we think about most during auto rides? The route, the ticking auto meter or the fact that there’s nothing to entertain us through the ride. But as I am driven around in an auto, by a cheerful Shanti, the only thing on my mind is...where do I eat? Well, that’s because these autos have a location-based advertising facility that displays ads based on the area you’re travelling through. So if you are on Khader Nawaz Khan Road, restaurants from that locality will show up. In addition there’s 3G connectivity, a Bluetooth printer and most importantly, a ‘Help’ button that can be used if any untoward incident should occur. “All these are available on the tablet. On pressing the help button a picture of the crime scene is clicked and sent back to the call centre and we in turn can notify the cops,” says Varadharajan.

Meanwhile Shanti who along with Usha and Parameshwari, was one of the first to sign up tells me of her experience as a “woman auto pilot”. “My day starts at 5 a.m. I finish all my household work and set out with the auto by 7 a.m. Till 4 p.m. I am on duty after which I am home with my family,” she says. Interestingly, Makkal Auto doesn’t make it mandatory for the drivers to put in fixed hours of service. “They just have to log in when they are on duty and log out when they are done for the day. They want to be independent,” adds Mansoor. “This works well for us,” says Parameshwari whose husband Saravanan too is an auto driver with Makkal Auto.

There’s also a tip box in each auto where contented passengers could drop in a token amount. The money is then used for the welfare of the driver. The ‘auto pilots’ believe that this system has improved relations with clients. “I have had happy customers taking down my mobile number so that they can use my services again,” smiles Shanti looking all business-like in her sari and khaki Makkal Auto jacket.

There is a lot of curiosity about the project and Mansoor hopes to spread the service across the country. In addition to the website and phone numbers, clients can also get an auto by downloading the app on their androids. And the best part is even if you are abroad, before boarding the flight to Chennai, you can book your ride home. “On booking our auto it will be there outside the airport. Unfortunately the new airport rules don’t allow autos in,” says Mansoor.

“We are also working on a line of solar-powered air-conditioned autos,” adds Mansoor. And there’s excitement all around…imagine going partying and not having to worry about driving, conveyance and the humidity wreaking havoc on your make-up!

(For details log onto www.makkalauto.com or call 6677 7777. The Makkal Auto android app will be available from March 25.)