Pavithra Sudhakar, a Hyderabad resident, used to spend about an hour travelling to her office daily. A senior software engineer in Wipro, she had to travel the 12 kms to office by cab or auto. Then, a year back, she started using the carpooling app sRide.
“I tried it after getting emails from my company (sRide has a tie-up with Wipro). Since then I have been using carpooling to go to office and back, daily. My travel time is only 40 minutes now,” she says.
For Pavithra, this time saving is the biggest advantage of carpooling. “The person driving the car always comes on time. In the case of a cab or an auto, there were always delays. Carpooling also benefits the environment,” she says. She carpools with any employee working in her tech park, not necessarily Wipro.
Mumbaikar Mayank Dalal, Director at Capgemini India, is a ‘ride giver’ in carpooling. He has been offering rides to 3-4 colleagues daily using the sRide app, for the last six months. Dalal’s ride starts from Vile Parle (East), about 35 kms away from his office in Navi Mumbai. The commute takes 1.15 to 1.30 hours.
“If my co-riders used public transport instead, they’d have to take two trains and then a bus or auto, and their travel time would be two and a half hours on average. So I’ve been able to assure them safe, friendly and on-time commute. Carpooling especially benefits expectant mothers, people with health issues, and those who are new to the company and the city,” he says.
Dalal rides with the same group of people on most days. Sometimes, when a seat is vacant, he informs others living nearby either through the app or a message, and gets them on board. “People from junior to senior positions ride in my car, and we have become friends irrespective of our designations. With carpooling I can also reduce my carbon footprint and be environment-friendly,” Dalal says. The app also requires ride takers to pay Rs 3 per km, which helps cover the car owner’s fuel costs for the ride.
Pavithra and Dalal are among an emerging group of urban residents who use carpool for daily commute. Carpooling has existed informally for some time through websites, Facebook pages, Whatsapp groups etc. But over the past decade, several carpooling startups have been launched, many of them by former IT employees.
While many of these startups have died a quiet death, others are thriving. Currently the carpooling industry in India is largely driven by these startups. There has been some global interest too. The French carpool company BlaBlaCar had entered the Indian market a couple of years back, but did not do very well. Yet, more companies like the German company Wunder are coming to India.
Carpooling has long been popular in many western countries, but the idea is only catching up in India. If carpooling becomes successful, the benefits are manifold — those without a car can navigate the horrendous urban traffic easily and at a low cost, car owners suffer less driving stress, and the number of cars on road could reduce. Carpooling startups say that a majority of their users are the young professional crowd. Arun Bhati, COO at the carpooling app Orahi, says that the average age of their users is 28 years.
K N M Rao, Founder of the Quick Ride carpool app, claims it has completed around 14 million kms of carpooling, which translates to reducing 3400 tonnes of CO2. Their app has an ‘Ecometer’ which shows each user how much CO2 she has personally reduced. Nitin Chadha, COO at sRide, says the app has completed eight million kms of carpooling.
Variants of ride sharing
In addition to carpooling, the self-drive model (also known as car sharing) – wherein a user rents a car from a company for a specific period, drives the car himself, and returns it – is also becoming popular in India. For eg., Zoomcar, one of the major self-drive companies in India, launched in 2013, has grown rapidly and is now active in 27 cities. Their customers have made over one million trips overall, covering 200 million kms.
Zoomcar’s CMO Harish Rawat says, “Most of our users are young, single people who don’t plan to buy a car for the next few years. “They may use Ola to go to office daily, but use Zoomcar for other purposes. Some already own a car, but don’t want to buy a second one.” When the company initially launched, most users rented cars for outstation travel, but now about 60% of the rentals are for travel within the city. “People rent a car when their parents visit, when they have to take colleagues out for dinner, for marriages etc,” says Rawat.
In both the carpooling and sharing models, the user get the benefits of having a car without having to own one. And even though more car-less people access cars through these models, there is a reduction in the total kilometres driven as well as in pollution and traffic jams.
In many countries, car-sharing has shown to reduce cars drastically. For eg., a 2010 study in US and Canada showed that each shared vehicle displaced 9-13 private cars. Another study in Switzerland in 2006 showed that former car owners had reduced their ‘vehicle-kilometres travelled’ by 72% with carpooling, and were increasingly resorting to cycling and public transport.
A recent study by the global research organisation World Resources Institute (WRI) found that in India, the car sharing industry was growing rapidly and it could potentially reduce car driving in the long term. In a focus group discussion with 44 Bangaloreans during the study, about 30% responded saying they may delay buying a car if car sharing option existed. And those who already owned a car said they would resort to carsharing instead of buying a second or third car.
However, the study cautions that Indian cities may not transition as quickly as western cities, mainly because public transport – which should complement car sharing to meet people’s needs – is inadequate in India.
Most carpooling apps meant for professionals
Most of the Indian carpooling apps target IT employees and companies. A major reason, these startups say, is that car traffic in cities is mainly contributed by IT sector. “Yet IT companies don’t prioritise this issue. There should be a push from the outside for IT companies to take it up, which is what carpool companies are doing,” says Vyjayanthi Mala, Founder of the recently launched W’heal Our World (WOW) carpool app.
Another reason that IT sector employees account for a bulk of clients is because most of them are comfortable going through the verification and security procedures, which are completed online. Many companies also have tie-ups with IT companies as they have large numbers of such professionals.
In theory, however, the popular carpooling apps are oriented towards professionals. The user could be any professional, not necessarily from the IT sector, but all users are supposed to verify their phone numbers and work email ID when they register on the app. Their profile in the app would display whether they have done these verifications, and based on this, other users can decide whether to ride with them or not.
Some apps like Orahi also further verify users by a government-issued ID like Aadhaar or driving license. Some others like WOW require users to login using their social media profile, which would also be visible to other users.
Carpooling companies say their market is quite different from that of Ola Share, Uber POOL etc. K N M Rao, Founder at Quick Ride carpooling app says, “When ridesharing in Ola and Uber, you are still adding a taxi to the road. Also, the travel time and kilometres travelled are actually higher – each person is travelling more.”
Bhati of Orahi says, “The driver (in case of ridesharing on app cabs) will be concerned only about getting the maximum number of rides, and the riders lose a lot of time. Hence people share rides in Ola and Uber only 1-2 times a week, whereas carpooling is done for daily office commute.”
How does it work?
Popular carpooling apps allow users to post their travel time and direction, and show matches for people travelling in the same time and direction. The ride taker/giver can check the profiles of those who are offering/requesting the ride, and opt for a profile they are comfortable with.
Here are some common features of popular apps:
- Security: A two or three tier verification process as mentioned earlier. Users can also rate each other, for future users’ benefit. sRide, for example, makes user reviews compulsory. Many apps also have other safety features like SOS button, or sending alerts to a contact when the user starts and ends the ride.
- Women-only carpools: Many apps allow users to filter co-riders by gender, and have exclusive women’s carpools. In the WOW app, gender is matched by default – men can travel with men only, and women with women. In general, women form a large number of carpoolers. For example, Rao says that nearly half their ride takers are women, though female ride givers are fewer. Some apps also have filters by company name, so that users can travel with colleagues.
- Communication between users: Once a user accepts your request/offer, you can communicate with her by call, SMS etc for coordination. The vehicle can also be tracked real-time in most apps.
- Relatively low cost: Ride takers pay much less than the auto/cab fare for the same distance – usually at around Rs 3 per km. “In comparison, while riding in Ola/Uber, an independent ride costs Rs 12-15 per km, and a share ride about Rs 8 per km. During surge pricing, it can go up to even Rs 20-25 per km,” says Bhati. In carpool apps, the ride taker’s contribution is often just enough to cover the fuel cost for the ride; a percentage of the contribution is taken by the carpool company too. This percentage varies – for example, Orahi takes 28% of the contribution, while sRide takes 6%. Some apps like AYA Carpool allow users to fix the price themselves.
- E-wallet: To avoid uncomfortable cash transactions, most apps have an e-wallet, using which the ride taker can transfer money or points to the ride giver. In the Quick Ride app, fuel points that are redeemable at petrol pumps are transferred. WOW app gives the car owner the option to donate to NGOs.
Additional features vary across apps. AYA Carpool, for example, has a user interface similar to Whatsapp, which makes contacting matches easier. Some apps like Quick Ride and AYA allow both intercity and intracity carpooling. Bike pooling is also an option in apps like Quick Ride, but Rao says it has not picked up much.
Here are details of some carpooling/self-drive apps, based on data given by the companies:
|Average cost per km for ride taker
|Total registered users
|Cities active in
|Five: Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Kochi
|NCR and Bangalore
|Nine: Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata, NCR, Kochi, Coimbatore
|W’heal Our World
|Users can decide
|1.2 lakh, of which about 70,000 are Indian users
|Mumbai, and to some extent in Bangalore and Hyderabad.
|Rs 70 to Rs 265 per hour, depending on the type of car and package opted
|27 (tier 1 and 2) cities. Most popular in Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore.
However, not all registered users take rides; in most apps, less than half the registered users use the app actively.
In part 2 of this story, we shall explore why the uptake on carpooling is still slow, and how companies are trying to overcome this challenge.