BENGALURU: A handful of obscure cab aggregators is putting to the test Ola and Uber’s dominance of India’s taxi-app market, seeking an opportunity in the driver unrest that has rocked the two ride-hailing services.
Cabby, TenZillionCabs, Crony Cabs, HiCabs, DropTaxi and even bike taxi startup Baxi Taxi, which has a provision on its app for hailing cabs, are approaching thousands of disgruntled drivers plying for Ola and Uber to migrate to their platforms.
In Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and other cities, hordes of drivers attached to Ola and Uber have staged agitations in recent months against diminishing incentives and payment policies that have made it tougher for them to earn what they used to. The two aggregators have cornered nearly all of India’s $9-billion taxi-app market, leaving Meru Cabs at a distant third place.
To break their hold, the upstart cab aggregators are trying to lure the drivers with differentiated payment structures and promises of improved earnings potential, although investors and analysts doubt that will be enough to crack the Ola-Uber duopoly.
TenZillionCabs, which has planned a pre-launch on March 27 in association with at least 10,000 drivers associated with the Chennai drivers’ union, is offering subscription packages for drivers to be a part of its platform.
“Since we are not charging any commission, Rs 2,500 a month is a basic subscription fee for maintenance of the booking system. Higher packages up to Rs 5,000 will take into consideration other value-added services like accident insurance, family health insurance and vehicle maintenance,” said cofounder Soubro Ghosh.
Baxi, too, will not demand commissions from drivers. Instead, “in the future, we will charge the customers a convenience fee,” said Rohit Koshy, entrepreneur-in-residence at Baxi Taxi, which has won the support of a powerful drivers’ union in Mumbai.
Praful Shinde, a member of the Action Committee of Maharashtra that spearheaded driver protests against Ola and Uber in Mumbai, said at least 7,000 drivers along with their cabs will be using the Baxi Taxi app by Monday. “I will aim to get totally 30,000 drivers on board in the next few weeks,” he said.
There’s also Cabby, which marked its inauguration event in Delhi on Thursday. The company, which has signed power-hitting cricketer Yuvraj Singh as its brand ambassador, is pulling out all stops to acquire passengers. Commuters hailing its cabs in its first six months could get a call from Singh or even have a Lamborghini, Ferrari or a Porsche pull up for the ride.
“During the strike (by Ola and Uber drivers) we managed to onboard two driver unions in Delhi to join us… Presently, we have 27,000 drivers on board and are targeting 100,000 users (by the end of Cabby’s first month),” said founder Sahil Arora.
In Bengaluru, several Ola and Uber drivers are working on developing their own taxi-hailing app with the backing of former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, as ET reported on March 20.
Tanveer Pasha, president of the Ola, TaxiForSure and Uber Drivers’ Association in Bengaluru, said several new cab aggregators had approached him to assist them in recruiting drivers for their platforms. But the association chose instead to go with “Kumaraswamy’s plan of investing Rs 50 crore over two years to create our own app and company,” said Pasha.
Industry experts, however, dismiss any threat to Ola and Uber from the new cab aggregators.
Ritesh Banglani, a former member in the board of of TaxiForSure, said both Ola and Uber have strong technology platforms that are difficult to replicate. “Just routing a cab on Ola Share is an extremely hard computer science problem that requires a world class technology team to solve,” said Banglani, cofounder of early-stage venture capital firm Stellaris Venture Partners.
Ola acquired TaxiForSure two years ago.
“HDK Cabs plans to invest Rs 50 crore in two years. That’s the kind of budget Ola and Uber have for one month,” said Jaspal Singh, partner at transport consultancy Valoriser Consultants.
“These (new) cab aggregators won’t be able to have a pan-India presence… They don’t have the kind of data science teams that Ola and Uber have or the funds required to stay alive. The only viable competition in the market is Meru Cabs. They have their own fleet, contract at the airports, prices per km are higher, and there is a definite gradual shift of drivers to Meru,” said Singh.
Nilesh Sangoi, chief executive of Meru Cabs, said the company registered a 25% increase in revenue in February and March as more drivers migrated to the platform.
“The number of daily signups from drivers are 300 cross the top nine cities we are in. This includes Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi, where we are seeing the most traction,” said Sangoi. “It’s possible to attribute over 50% of the driver signups to their conflict with Ola and Uber.