Autorickshaws in Salt Lake and New Town are going the app-cab way and accepting payments through Paytm, the mobile wallet that spares passengers the hassle of carrying change to pay the exact fare.
The silent digital revolution sweeping the streets has not only made transactions between passenger and driver seamless but also reduced, if not eliminated, the possibility of altercations over small change.
On almost every auto route in Salt Lake and New Town, many vehicles accept payments through the Paytm digital wallet. A passenger who isn't carrying change but has a Paytm account with a sufficient balance only needs to look for an auto sporting the small blue-and-white sticker that reads: "Paytm accepted here".
Payments through mobile or digital wallets used to be the domain of app cabs - Uber accepts Paytm while Ola has its own Ola Money - until the auto fleet in Salt Lake and nearby New Town took the tech plunge.
Paytm is, of course, one of several mobile wallets available in India. The other choices include Mobikwik, Freecharge, PayU and Oxigen, which can be used for everything from online shopping to paying for dinner and the cab ride back home.
According to a senior official of Paytm, the mobile wallet market has grown at a rapid pace in Calcutta. But convincing auto drivers to accept even single-digit payments - Metro paid Rs 7 through Paytm for a ride - through the digital medium hasn't happened overnight.
"Getting autorickshaw drivers to trust in a mobile wallet takes time. We have had to depute teams to make them understand how to operate the app and link it with their bank accounts. We are progressing at a steady rate in the city and the response from autorickshaw and e-rickshaw drivers has been encouraging," said Kumar Aditya, vice-president of business development at Paytm.
For a passenger, of course, paying the auto fare through Paytm is a breeze once the person has the app on the mobile phone and sufficient balance in the account.
The mobile app is available on Google Play for Android and the App Store for iOS.
All one needs to do to pay the fare is log into the app and select the "pay or send money" option. Enter the driver's mobile number registered with the wallet - the number would be prominently displayed on the Paytm stickers in the auto - before hitting the "pay" button.
Alternatively, a passenger can scan the sticker that has a unique QR code printed on it by using the phone camera.
"I used to regularly get into arguments with passengers over change. Paying back the exact balance was a big hassle. Life has become much easier with this system. Now, if a passenger isn't carrying change, I ask if he or she would like to pay through the mobile wallet," said 55-year-old Yudhisthir Santra, who ferries passengers on the Karunamoyee-Sector V route.
Salt Lake has around 15 auto routes while New Town has six. Currently, around 120 autos accept fares through mobile wallets across multiple routes.
The majority of drivers wouldn't have thought this possible until three months ago, when Paytm started sending teams to the auto stands. Informal discussions with the drivers quickly opened up the possibility of trouble-free transactions and the drivers were sold on the idea.
"They told us that we could use the wallet to not only accept fares from passengers but also for mobile phone recharge. We got Rs 20 in our mobile wallets the moment we registered," said 58-year-old Gouranga Roy, who operates on the College More-Karunamoyee bus stand route.
Most auto drivers using mobile wallets have yet to link them to their bank accounts, though. They have using the digital money in their wallets to buy phone talk time or make online purchases instead."I recently bought two shirts and a toy aeroplane for my nephew from the Paytm site," said driver Ramesh Mondal, 29.
Some e-rickshaws plying in New Town have joined the digital bandwagon. "We started using this system two months ago and it has been very convenient," said Dilip Mondal, 23, waiting for passengers in New Town.
Techie Rudronil Chaudhuri, who works in Sector V, has stopped carrying change to pay the auto fare. "I used to have at least Rs 30 in small change before setting out for work. Not anymore," he said.
Ditto Shruti Agarwal, 26, whose office is in the DLF Building in New Town. "I started using a mobile wallet when app cabs came to the city. Two months ago, I was surprised to find even autos and e-rickshaws accepting digital payments," she said.
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