Auto rickshaw travel on city roads is being made sustainable and cheaper with entrepreneurs organising and streamlining the services

The late 1950s saw the introduction of auto rickshaws on Indian streets. With the burgeoning population, increase in number of private vehicles, introduction of metro trains and more public buses in the cities, auto rickshaws have been facing newer challenges to survive in and acclimatise to the road transport system.

Its unorganised nature is responsible for auto rickshaw’s lack of a brand image, poor public perception, randomised services and operational inefficiencies such as empty trips. Weighing the challenges of the scenario, entrepreneurs in various capacities have begun to take interest in streamlining auto rickshaw services, in turn, taking a step towards sustainable, safe, affordable and profitable road and transport network.

Embarq India and Shell Foundation hosted a roundtable conference last week to discuss the challenges and opportunities in para transit and to promote entrepreneurship in organising and streamlining auto rickshaw services.

Entrepreneur Nirmal was studying at IIM Ahmadabad when an auto driver’s attempts to fleece him for a short distance ride prompted him to initiate a unique model of streamlining the otherwise unorganised auto rickshaws in the area. What began as a small venture of forming a network of 10-15 drivers has expanded to a huge network of 10,000 “G-auto” drivers today in Ahmadabad, Gandhinagar and Vadodara.

At his charitable trust — Nirmal Foundation -- he works on a self revenue based model generated through advertisements and bookings in newspapers and magazines. Auto rickshaws registered with the trust are provided with the name of a trusted brand. This increases the credibility of para transit provided by these vehicles in the market. Additionally, the trust gives insurance and medical facilities to the drivers, ensures their children’s education and augments the quality of their business by inculcating behavioural changes in them through free training sessions. The passengers, in turn, get trouble-free rides at optimum costs.

In a similar vein, Janardan Prasad and Mukesh Jha in Pune and Bangalore operate another entrepreneurial venture with the objective of fleet optimisation on roads. The duo, pass-outs from IIT-Kanpur, formed a ‘for-profit’ network marrying technology, communications, IT systems and services to bridge the gap between commuters and auto rickshaw drivers.

A survey conducted by them reported only one per cent of passengers are happy with the services provided by auto rickshaws plying on Pune roads. They converted it into an opportunity and consolidated their vision of fleet optimisation as autowale.in with the mission of ‘becoming the Google of auto rickshaw sector’.

At autowale.in, the attempt has been to organise auto rickshaws in Pune and Bangalore under their banner. It uses GMS towers to track their vehicles, write algorithms and help in planning travel for both passengers and drivers. This has gone a long way to minimise traffic congestion and tackle the problems of empty rides often faced by drivers on their way back after dropping passengers. Also, the process of surveillance has ensured passengers’ safety and saved them from falling prey to exorbitant travel costs.

The conference had representatives from the world of finance commenting on the huge possibility and opportunity in making the exercise of organising the largely unorganised sector of auto rickshaws a profitable one.

While pointing to the Centre’s sluggish response to innovations in the field, a leading finance expert said that since the exercise is new for the government, too, one needs to highlight and focus on the profitability and scalability of ventures like those which have made success stories like G-auto or autowale.in for the governments to take notice. In addition, he also talked about the need to encourage public-private-partnership models in this largely unexploited sector.

The conference showcased effective strategies to rope in angel investors and foundations and ensure an environment of sustaining entrepreneurial attempts.

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