Ubiquitous on Bengaluru’s streets, the autorickshaw should have been the most effective last-mile connectivity option. It is a no-brainer, at least on paper. Yet, the lack of an effective price regulatory system has made a mockery of the auto meter, further pushing the city’s unsustainable, explosive growth of private vehicles. Can Metro Mitra and other options in the pipeline reverse this decline?
Developed for a mobility partnership with Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) and expected to be operationalised soon, Metro Mitra app promises to be a game-changer. But can it change the public distrust of many such initiatives in the past that eventually failed to deliver? Exasperated by the inaccessibility and frequent cancellations by autos attached to aggregator platforms, commuters are desperate for a system that actually works.
Prepaid autorickshaw stands in disarray
Pre-paid auto rickshaw stands at many Metro Stations are in disarray. Despite the inflated rate cards, vehicles are often unavailable and the counters are poorly staffed or closed. Alighting the Metro, commuters end up paying hefty fares after a hard bargain. During peak hours, the waiting time for an Uber or Ola can get frustratingly long.
Metro Mitra is different since it is exclusively for Metro users, and the routes are designed to originate from the Stations. The plan is to extend it to all existing stations across the city. To beckon the long-harassed commuters, the app will strictly follow the government’s meter fare model with an additional flat fare charge of ₹10. This will cover the pick-up and technology-related expenses.
Inter-modal connectivity has been a big challenge at many of the Metro Phase I stations. Designated BMTC bus bays are a rarity. The new app is expected to address this issue with designated ‘Metro Mitra Zones,’ created for auto drivers in close proximity to the Metro stations.
How Metro Mitra app works
So, here’s how Metro Mitra works: Commuters book the auto ride while buying a Metro ticket from the BMRCL app or through its WhatsApp chatbot feature. Once he/she enters the destination in the app, an estimated fare shows up. Post booking, the commuter receives a one-time password (OTP) with other ride details. The Metro Mitra zone is then assigned to the commuter. The system follows the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) model.
At the heart of public discontent with the existing ecosystem is driver behaviour. But, as Sampath C., General Secretary of the Adarsh Auto Drivers’ Union points out, the fault lies also with the driving schools and Regional Transport Offices (RTOs). “After getting his learner’s licence, the driver has 30 days to obtain his Driving Licence (DL). During this period, he should be clearly told that the licence is given for public service and he should go to whichever corner of the city he is hired for,” he says.
Driver behaviour, regulatory gap
Sampath notes that none of the RTOs or schools educate the driver about the rules. “He is not told ‘Don’t take more than three passengers, don’t charge one and half times beyond the stipulated time limits. Without a working knowledge of these basic rules, why should he be issued the DL? They could educate him at the time of renewing license, fitness certificate or permit, but they don’t.”
The Transport Department has a functioning training programme for drivers of heavy vehicles. “At an RTO on the city’s outskirts, they get trained for a full day and only after this are they issued a licence. Why can’t they train auto drivers on the same lines? The department collects crores of rupees in penalty. They can get all the drivers in one place, give them food, and conduct awareness drives. I feel about 70% of the problem can be solved this way,” says Sampath.
This is where Metro Mitra could make a big difference, feels independent mobility consultant Satya Arikutharam, who has been actively involved in developing the new system. “With Metro Mitra, they want to create a new Section 8 company and then run it as a digital cooperative. But they will onboard only drivers who are professionals. Professionals in the sense that the drivers will have to demonstrate professional pride, values, and etiquette so that their customer behavior is proper,” he explains.
The beta launch with about 50-60 daily rides has already elicited a positive response from the commuters, notes Satya, “Everybody is surprised to know that they are coming as per the meter rates. Besides, since the Metro Mitra zones are defined by the drivers themselves, they don’t cancel a ride if the trip falls within the zone. This way, last-mile connectivity will become more reliable.”
Ruckus at beta launch
The Metro Mitra holds promise, but a ruckus at its beta launch in Jayanagar recently, has forced the people behind it to dissociate the app from any union. A section of the Auto Rickshaw Drivers Union (ARDU), linked to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), had objected to the union being associated with Metro Mitra. The app platform is to morph into a Section 8 company.
It is learned that the Metro Mitra app’s functionality will be extended to 25 Metro stations by the end of March 2024. Currently, the beta-launched platform covers parts of R.V. Metro, Jayanagar, Nagasandra, and Hosahalli stations, working under the radar to avoid any conflict.
Measure of success
Eventually, the success of the system will depend on reliability and sustainability. As things stand, the geographical boundary of the app is determined by the drivers themselves. This limit called a zone, is geo-tagged. So, when a commuter scans, he / she gets options only from that zone.
Since the zone is defined by them, the drivers do not refuse a trip. Once data shows the extent of trips within and outside the zone, drivers could take a decision to expand the radius of their zones to get more rides. This data-driven, driver-determined approach might just be the answer to the problems faced by Bengaluru’s harried auto commuters. Add BMTC bus stops and the transport corporation, and we could be in for a true game-changer.
Namma Yatri experience
Introduced less than a year ago, the successful Namma Yatri ecosystem gives some hope to the people behind Metro Mitra. Namma Yatri has already crossed 1.03 crore completed trips and recorded over ₹ 150 crore in driver earnings. The number of registered users is almost 20 lakh. A driver-centric offering, the app charges no commission unlike the big aggregators that Bengalureans are used to.