mid-day test drive: Black-and-yellow taxi app fails litmus test

mid-day put the much-talked about kaali-peeli app, Aamchi Drive, to the test on Day 1 and found it just as non-cooperative as the cabbies. It's a dud at different locations across Mumbai


mid-day couldn't find a single Aamchi Drive taxi during a test run near Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi. Pics/Bipin Kokate

For a ride hailing service that boasts of 2,000 taxi drivers on its rolls, Aamchi Drive is an absolute letdown. The app, to book Cool Cabs and kaali-peelis, was launched yesterday amid hope of levelling the playing field and ending the monopoly of giants Uber and Ola. But, it failed to live up to the hype on the very first day.

While launching the app at performance art space Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi around noon, Mumbai Taximen's Union leader AL Quadros had bragged: "Chhota ya bada, hum sab bhaada lenge… refuse nahi karenge (Irrespective of the distance, we will accept fares)."

Also read: Book your kaali-peelis through 'Aamchi Drive' app from tomorrow

But, we couldn't even put that claim to test. Every time we tried to book a taxi — we made several attempts from each of the three chosen locations — we drew a blank. There simply was no app-affiliated taxi — Cool Cab or black-and-yellow — nearby.

mid-day couldn't find a single Aamchi Drive taxi during a test run near Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi. Pics/Bipin Kkokate
Shashank Rao with the Aamchi Drive app

From plenty to zero
The first test was conducted right outside the location of the launch, Ravindra Natya Mandir, at around 3 pm. We fired up the app, fed in the destination (Worli Seaface), selected the payment option (e-wallet) and waited. The app searched for taxis, but got none. We tried again; still no luck. The no-show was in sharp contrast with the turnout of taxis during the launch; many cabs with stickers of Aamchi Drive pasted on them were seen then.

Changed payment option
We zeroed in on the state transport commissioner's office in Bandra East as the next location. Again, we keyed in the destination (Mahim railway station). This time, we changed the payment option to 'cash', hoping that would do the trick. But, again, there was no sight of any cab.

A number of black-and-yellow taxis and Cool Cabs were seen at the app's launch at Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi, but they disappeared within an hour.
A number of black-and-yellow taxis and Cool Cabs were seen at the app's launch at Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi, but they disappeared within an hour.

'What app?'
For out next location, we chose Gandhi Market in Sion. We assumed we'd luck out at least there. We were proven wrong, again. A few of the drivers in the locality hadn't even heard of the app.

Quadros felt that these are only teething troubles. "At least two drivers told me that they got ride requests on the app. It will take some time for people and our drivers to learn of this app. We believe that there will be better awareness on Aamchi Drive in a month," he said after being told that the app failed the test run.

Teething troubles aside, the taximen's union needs to look into the fares to create a demand for the app. We found that the fares were steeper than for a non-app ride. Case in point, when we tried to make a booking from Lower Parel station bridge to Phoenix Mills, the fare estimate was R42. A regular kaali-peeli ride would cost Rs 22.

No taxi was available in the vicinity of Ravindra Natya Mandir when we tried to book a ride
No taxi was available in the vicinity of Ravindra Natya Mandir when we tried to book a ride

An advantage
The app, in theory, is a godsend to commuters held to ransom by the pocket-pinching Ola and Uber. Quadros pointed out that Aamchi Drive has a leg-up over these platforms: there is no surge pricing. "Our fares will remain constant, irrespective of the demand or the time of the day. We will levy a convenience charge of Rs 5, though. Ola and Uber were ruining our business. We had to upgrade."

Can be used without app
Officials from IT firm Sun Telematics, maker of the app which is also responsible for its maintenance, said once a substantial number of taxi drivers enrol with the app, passengers can even hail a cab without opening the app. It would only require giving one's mobile number to the driver. At the end of the trip, the passenger would be charged through e-wallet and the details would be recorded in the central system.

"Every trip will be monitored. While the app is in use, the meter will not be operational. Fares will be determined using the Aamchi Drive app," said Vilas B, chief operating officer of the firm.

Sanjay Sasane, an RTO official from Kalyan, said the all drivers using this app will have to be registered. "Ideally, app-based bookings will be a win-win for both cabbies and customers."

Get trigger-appy
After the destination and the payment option are selected, drivers in the vicinity will be alerted. Once a ride is booked, a passenger will get a one-time password via SMS, which is to be shared with the driver to start the trip. The app gives an option between AC and non-AC cabs. Airconditioned kaali-peelis attract an extra 20 per cent charge. The app also has a panic button to report emergencies.

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