t Is that time of the year when everyone, irrespective of personality type, gets a little crabby. I guess it’s because we’re spoilt by good weather for most of the year that getting through the summer seems like an arduous mission. The rise in ire, as everyone’s minds slowly unravels under the duress of a sweltering afternoon, is most visible on the streets, where pitched battles between auto rickshaw drivers and their clientele see a sharp spike.
While it is probably exacerbated by the scorching heat, the autorickshaw driver-passenger melee runs all year round. For the longest time, everyone simply got on board, recognising the paucity of quick commute alternatives. But over the last four years, a flurry of start-up activity has shaken up the transport sector.
Captain Gopinath of the erstwhile Air Deccan airline company once said that his low-cost, no-frills carriers weren’t competing with other airlines, but with the publicly-owned railways. In a sense, that’s precisely what start-up cab companies have done by entering a middle-class city commuter market that was once the sole domain of autos and buses. Bangalore hasn’t had a cab culture like a city like Mumbai does. But in four years, Ola and gang have made cab travel far more easier on the pocket; cabs aren’t reserved simply for getting to the airport, but for getting around in town as well.
I wouldn’t want to overstate the impact of cabs either; autorick
shaws are still the city’s lifeline to quick and expedient travel. But cab companies have found a way to compete more directly with the three-wheeled tuk tuk. The Ola Auto, for instance, launched at the end of last year, has picked up considerably, driven by the convenience of an app-based service. Meanwhile, a “hailing service” like mGaadi has initiated a change in the city’s transport landscape, but through a completely different track. They recognise the growing troubles that commuting involves, without typecasting all autodrivers
as the spawn of Satan. Instead, their service allows commuters to book an auto from a pool of over 12,000 rickshaws that are affiliated to them. All mGaadi autos come without the haggling for extra charges or quarrels over destination.
None of these solutions are entirely free of kinks in the system; the complaints about insouciant cab drivers going AWOL after you’ve booked one are commonplace. But it’s heartening, nevertheless, to see an expansion of city-commute options while we wait for that mythical Metro service to materialise in its entirety (no, don’t hold your breath).