The fascinating flip side to the sharing economy.

What I learned about Ola, Uber and much more from my auto driver, and should I finally jump into the car-sharing movement?


But first… a confession:

I’ve never been the guy that stands outside a store to grab the newest shiny toy on the launch day. Back in 2004, while some of my friends rocked their Apple PowerBooks, I was 100% a PC and very happy with my Windows XP running HP laptop. It just worked. But today, you won’t ever find me more than arm’s length from my MacBook. But that’s just one example.

As the pace of innovation accelerates, I’m finding myself waiting and watching more technologies launch and get a spur of interest from early adopters. These days I’m paying close attention to iBeacons, 3D printing, Internet of Things (IoT), and yeah, the sharing economy too.

But it feels like it’s time I jumped feet first into the sharing economy.
Nice Ride — Bike-sharing program in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.

Sharing Economy

I first heard of Uber in late 2013 when the “sharing economy” bandwagon really started rolling through the streets of Minneapolis with car-sharing apps (Uber, Lyft and Car2Go), and our local bike-sharing service, Nice Ride.

Bike-sharing: It was Summer last year when I subscribed to Nice Ride, the non-profit bike-sharing program in the Twin Cities, and immediately fell in love. I enjoyed always have a bike nearby to go for a quick ride around the lakes, or from one side of Uptown to the other. It was very interesting to experience the city from a different perspective all together — the bike lanes, the stop signs, the previously unnoticed inclines and declines of the roads. I really enjoyed it. When in Chicago for a weekend, I rode around the Magnificent Mile on divvy too. I strongly recommend signing up for your local bike-sharing program.

Home-away-from-home: I’ve slept on couches (literally) through couchsurfing and traveled to new cities and shores sleeping with home-like comfort with airbnb.

But that’s where my experiences with the sharing economy end.


The car-sharing and ‘cars as a service’ revolution…

More than 90% of households in America have at least 1 vehicle, but there’s a growing trend to go car-free.

It’s a very different story in India.

Only 2.5 percent of households in India have a car. TWO POINT FIVE!

And there is no way the country’s infrastructure (with jammed roads, crowded cities and already exhausted parking options) can support many more cars.

Another reason to be #carfree.

India doesn’t have a choice but to stay car-free.

“As I travel across India this year, I’ve been completely car-free too, partially because I wouldn’t dare get behind the wheel in the traffic here. I like to stay in my lane, but people here don’t even know (or care) what lanes are for. Seriously. Don’t get me started! There are only 2 traffic rules here. But, the public transit options (autos, buses, trains, metro, etc.) are comfortable and fairly extensive. Kudos to New Delhi for building, maintaining, and continuously expanding the metro system over the last decade.”

The conversation with Ash, my auto driver

I don’t have Uber, Ola or BlaBlaCar apps on my phone… so yesterday when I flagged down an auto in the street, the driver’s smart phone caught my eye and I asked him what it’s for.

Ola”, he replied.
Interesting! Tell me about it… What is Ola?

When someone nearby wants an auto, I (and other drivers) get notified, and if I accept the ride. Ola gives out an additional 30 rupees ($0.50) per ride, and the passenger also gives me an extra 10 rupees too.

Ok. How long you you been on this?

One week.

What do you think so far?

Theek hi hai. (It’s ok.)

What benefit do you get by being on Ola?

Right now, I don’t get much of anything by being on Ola. The bar to join is low, and the incentive to join was Rs. 350.

Drivers get money just for signing up to Ola?

Yeah. Ola used to give around 1000 rupees, but now have reduced it to 350 rupees ($5).

And what about the smartphone?

Oh yes. They give us the phone, the phone stand and charger too. I didn’t have to pay anything to join the system. They made it pretty easy.

So tell me, what exactly happens when you accept to give someone a ride?

When a passenger requests an Ola ride, all nearby auto drivers on Ola get notified on their apps. The first driver to accept the ride gets it. Then, you call/text with the passenger and confirm the exact location to meet and an ETA (estimated time of arrival). There you pick up the passenger, turn the meter on, and off you go. When you arrive at the destination, you get paid the price of the ride, and 10 rupees from the passenger. And, Ola adds 30 rupees to your account too.

In your account? What do you mean “in your account”?

When you sign up and have been with them for 15 days, you get a one-time bonus of Rs 350 ($5). But I’ve only been with them for a week, so I’ve yet to see that for myself. We’ll have to wait and see if that really pans out.

Ola gives all drivers an account with Axis Bank. I can see my Ola balance directly from the app.

So has it been beneficial to you so far?

“Abhi to nahin hai koi benefit magar baad mein jake hoga shayad” No, I haven’t really benefited by being on Ola yet, but maybe later on. It’s difficult.

What’s difficult?

Sometimes I have to travel up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to pick up the customers, which is a hassle. Ola would like us to give 3 rides per day. But so far I’ve only gotten one. Yup, just one in my first week.

Why is it so difficult? Are there lots of auto drivers on Ola already?
  1. Yes, it’s a mad rush to “accept” whenever we get notified of a new ride. By the time I look at where the customer is and decide whether it’s worth my time to go there to pick him up, another auto driver has accepted the ride already.
  2. And, if I already have a passenger in my auto then I can’t even consider any requests that come through Ola. Like right now, you are here.
  3. About 30–35000 auto drivers have signed up on Ola, and about 100–150 new ones sign up every day.

The flip side to the sharing economy

Sure, the auto drivers are fairly low on the socioeconomic ladder and need to earn 600 to 1200 rupees each day to support their families. But, they’re not fools. They’re street-smart and self-employed entrepreneurs. They’re intrigued by Ola and Uber, and are fairly very well informed about the options available. They make logical decisions that will work best for them. For them, it’s not “the next cool startup”, but rather it’s a business decision whether it’s worth the investment of time and energy to figure it out, get it installed, and jump through the hoops. People are skeptical of “make easy money” schemes and don’t want to be taken advantage of. They’re cautiously taking it one step at a time. Because there’s a lot at stake for them. They work 8 to 12 hours driving through the streets of Delhi to put food on the table, to put their children through school, and save a little for a rainy day. So if Ola/Uber hold their end of the bargain and keep both sides of the marketplace happy, then that will spur more confidence among everybody. A couple of auto drivers have said to me that they’re already have plenty of business in Delhi, and don’t feel the need to jump onto Ola or Uber.

Ola is off to a running start, but the jury from auto drivers in Delhi is still out.

Just like this kitty, will Ola be able to hang on to their commanding lead over Uber? *come on kitty, you can do it.*

are you kitten me? i can’t hold on furr-ever.

Founders of Ola
OlaCabs is an Indian company founded by Bhavish Aggarwal (29) and Ankit Bhati (28). They built it from the ground up in India over the last 3 years, and they understand the idiosyncrasies of the Indian market better than Uber. The Ola app is available in many local languages, and, as far as I know, Uber is still English only. They’re dominating Uber quantitatively in India, Ola operates a LOT more vehicles and are available in a LOT more cities than Uber.

I’m happy to say that I’ve now finally installed both Uber and Ola on my phone.

If you enjoyed this post, you should follow me on Twitter at @amrit_sharma, and drop me a tweet to say hi.

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