BUSINESS

Hip, educated drivers for hire at an app’s tap

sit back:These start-ups give lot of importance on the high quality of service provided by the chauffeurs.— FILE PHOTO: Special Arrangement

sit back:These start-ups give lot of importance on the high quality of service provided by the chauffeurs.— FILE PHOTO: Special Arrangement  

‘On-demand drivers’ is the latest commuter-related service available at your fingertips via smartphone applications

Roads in cities are either pockmarked with potholes or choked with traffic, or both; so much so that not many have pleasant experiences behind the wheel. However, whether you own a car or not, thanks to technology, our commuting patterns are now vastly different.

There is a range of app-based on-demand services that commuters can avail with a few taps on their mobile device. It began with apps like Ola and Uber to hire cabs. Then came the ride-sharing option. Says Amit Jain, President, Uber India, “For a country that considered car ownership as a status symbol, it is interesting that consumers are open to sharing.

The growth in usage of UberPOOL is testament to this. Today, more than 30 per cent of rides in Delhi are on UberPOOL and over 20 per cent of the rides in the remaining five UberPOOL cities: Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai.”

The latest fledgling segment is ‘on-demand drivers’.

Traffic congestion

Traffic congestion is a major put-off for many people.

The sale of passenger vehicles went up by 7.24 per cent in 2015-16 over the same period last year, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), the apex industry body representing leading vehicle and vehicular engine manufacturers in India.

Among passenger vehicles, the sale of passenger cars, utility vehicles and vans grew by 7.87 per cent, 6.25 per cent and 3.58 per cent respectively in 2015-16 over the same period last year, says SIAM.

Notorious bottlenecks

Bengaluru, notorious for its traffic bottlenecks, sees an addition of around five lakh vehicles each financial year, according to transport department data. Till March 2016, over 60 lakh vehicles were registered in the city. The figure was 41.56 lakh till March 2012 and 55.59 lakh till March 2015.

Driving on these congested roads is no mean task, and a few start-ups have discovered a huge market potential, as the unorganised sector of private drivers hasn’t been able to address the car owners’ woes adequately.

For example, Bengaluru-based DriveU, Mumbai-based Zuver and Chennai-based DriversKart.

Early entrant

DriveU, an early entrant in this segment, was founded by Rahm Shastry, Ashok Shastry and Amulmeet Singh Chadha in July 2015. “Nowadays, many would like to be driven rather than drive,” says CEO Rahm Shastry. “Roads are cluttered and not many people follow rules. Driving has become mentally and emotionally draining.”

The company has over 1,000 private drivers in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi NCR and Pune, and does over 10,000 trips a month.

Zuver was founded by Sovin Hegde and Sidhanth Mally in November 2015.

“The Eureka moment was during a night out when we couldn't find a driver to dial up and wished there was a Uber for private drivers to help us out with our car,” says Mr. Hegde.

The company started with 20 drivers in Mumbai and it has grown to 250 in Mumbai, 150 in Bangalore and 100 in Pune, says Mr. Mally.

DriversKart was founded in September 2015, and operates in Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune and Delhi.

“We started with just five drivers, and now there are over 300,” says co-founder Saksham Grover.

Value additions

These start-ups give lot of importance on the high quality of service provided by the chauffeurs. The recruitment process itself is rigorous, with the resumes thoroughly vetted, and a strict background verification of selected drivers done. After recruitment, though the drivers possess a licence, they are put through a short-term course, that comprises learning basic social etiquette.

Vimala Rajagopal has been using the service for over a year. “The drivers are prompt and come to the pick-up place on time; they are patient and presentable,” she says. Another commuter, Mumtaz, says since drivers are verified and background checked, she feels safe and secure.

“Drivers come with a seat cover and floor mat to ensure cleanliness. The piece that appeals the most to me is: driver’s etiquette and behaviour along with their driving skills,” she says.

Changing image

The process of hiring a chauffeur is similar to hiring a cab. Download the app, set the pick-up and drop locations, and timings. The driver is assigned, and can be tracked. When the journey ends, the customer makes the payment. The drivers take around 80 percent of the trip fare, and earn up to around Rs 30,000 a month.

Mr. Shastry says the company has been able to change the way drivers look at their job.

“Though our typical driver works full-time, there are many young, hip, English-speaking, college-going or college-educated drivers working with us on part-time basis. They fulfil their passion of driving, travelling to interesting places, and meeting new people; at the same time they make some additional income on the side,” he says.

Growth potential

Indications are that this nascent segment is set to grow. Says Sovin Hegde, “Ever since our launch, we’ve grown on an average at 20 per cent month on month, both in terms of revenue and ridership. The driver market is here to stay and grow. The rising income amongst the middle class will only help increase the payout to the drivers.”

Mr. Shastry, who expects a 10-fold increase in the number of drivers by next year, says many uniquely Indian conditions make hiring of drivers a good option for car owners.

“Roads are cluttered and people don’t follow traffic laws, making driving difficult. You can typically hire a driver for around Rs.500 for five hours which is quite acceptable to vast majority of middle class,” he says. “From doing around 100 trips in the first month, we did over 10,000 trips a month at our first year-end. We are growing steadily 10-25 per cent month-on-month. By end of this year, we are looking to expand to two other cities,” Mr. Grover says.

Tie-ups, expansion

Though initially the focus was on intra-city transport, with increasing demand, outstation trips were added. Many start-ups are also customizing packages for their customers. Zuver offers a monthly subscription package for office commute.

Says Mr. Mally: “The B2B is a segment that has gained some traction for us, and we have added alliances with multiple partners. In the future, we plan to add certain services to our app that will help increase the ease of private car ownership.”

In September, DriveU announced a tie-up with leading self-drive rental car company Zoomcar, wherein its uniformed drivers would provide doorstep delivery service for the latter's customers. The service was started in Bengaluru and was expanded to Mumbai, Delhi NCR and Pune.

Cab alternatives

The rapid rise of this new segment provides an alternative for people who have a car, but are unable to drive for some reason. For Shyam Sundar, who recently switched to using the apps, the service has come as a big relief.

“Earlier we used to call the driver whom we got to know from our neighbour. But many times he turned up late. When he is not free, it’s such a hassle to find a replacement. The reliability of these app-based services is a big plus,” he says.

P. Krishna Kumar, who travels a lot on work, says: “Earlier, if we couldn’t get a driver, we used to hire a cab. Now we hire a driver.”

Drivers come with a seat cover and floor mat to ensure cleanlinessVimala RajagopalCustomer

The rapid rise of this new segment does provide an alternative for people who have a car, but are unable to drive for some reason

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