A California-based start-up that has turned the taxi business on its bonnet quietly drove into town on Tuesday morning, promising Calcuttans a truly cool cab experience.
Sounds too good to be true? Technology company Uber’s app-based rideshare service comes with a reputation of reliability — from Singapore, where Mamata Banerjee has gone shopping for investment, to the Silicon Valley of India, where fares have just been slashed by 25 per cent!
The best part is that you need no longer “hail” a taxi in the conventional sense (read: frantically waving at vehicles with stiff-necked drivers who won’t look at you).
You don’t even have to dial a taxi-service helpline to get a vehicle at your doorstep, office, mall, market or wherever. Just press the Uber icon on your smartphone and the app will pick up your location through GPS and say how many Uber cabs are available in the vicinity and how long it would take for one to reach you.
And when the ride ends, get off the vehicle and walk away. Uber will bill you on your registered credit card, PayPal account or Google Wallet and mail you a receipt.
Neeraj Singhal, who is leading Uber’s foray into India, believes “it’s a great time to launch in Calcutta”, and not only because the city has had four no-taxi days in less than a fortnight.
“This city has very little to offer in terms of private transportation options. There is a lack of transparency and availability and also reliability. Plus, unionisation really doesn’t help things down here. We at Uber offer the most reliable service along with tremendous transparency in pricing and very good customer service. It’s been hard work getting here,” Singhal told Metro.
Uber had arrived in India in August 2013, choosing Bangalore as its first stop. The company expanded its operations to Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai before Tuesday’s quadruple launch in Calcutta, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Chandigarh. (And you still think Calcutta is in the big league of metros?!) The fares vary in each of these cities.
Uber has entered Calcutta with a rate chart that competes with existing taxi fares and beats those of private operators. The base fare for an UberBLACK cab — Toyota Innova, Maruti SX4 and Hyundai Verna — in Calcutta is Rs 40 plus Rs 12 per km and Re 1/minute with a minimum fare of Rs 80 and a similar cancellation fee. A ride from the airport to downtown Esplanade, which is a distance of 17.7 km, will cost the passenger Rs 275 to Rs 285, depending on traffic. No haggling, no extra payment for going to a particular destination.
“We have arrived at the pricing by trial and error. These are introductory prices,” Singhal said.
So, would fares rise anytime soon? “Travel could actually become cheaper, you never know,” he said.
Uber refused to reveal the size of its Calcutta fleet. “We are not a transportation company. We don’t own cars or drivers. We are a technology company providing a booking platform. The vehicles that we put on the roads are the vehicles that are available in the market. We contact individual drivers-cum-owners of commercial cars or fleet cars. We generally prefer owners who drive their cars. We scan their licences, their previous driving records, permits, insurance and then bring them on board,” Singhal said.
Metro requested a pick-up at Chandni Chowk around 5.30pm on Tuesday, only to find that no cars were available for hire in that area at that time. Another attempt from the same location around 7pm yielded the same result. “When we launched in Bangalore, the average wait for a pick-up was about 20 minutes. That has since come down to eight-and-a-half minutes,” a spokesperson said.
Calcuttan Anvi Singh, who has used Uber in the US and India, said: “It’s a hassle-free ride. Besides, if you have the app on your mobile you can use it anywhere in the world.”
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