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Corporate Feb 1, 2013

Booked a cab? Now locate how far it is from you

By Arlene Chang

New Delhi: Ever been in a situation where you have booked a cab with one of the numerous private operators, got your booking confirmed and then been stood up? If you have, rejoice for Olacabs -- a private taxi service which uses technology to empower the customer, with minute to minute information on the whereabouts of the booked cab.

Founded in January 2011 by two IIT Bombay alumni Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati, Olacabs integrates car transportation onto a technology platform to ensure a convenient, transparent and quick service fulfillment for the customer.

Location of Olacabs in a smartphone. Image courtesy Olacabs

Location of Olacabs in a smartphone. Image courtesy Olacabs

"Opacity exists as a default in this industry. There's a lot of opaqueness around things like availability of cab, how soon it can arrive. how quickly it can be booked and how far is it from the destination. With our cab service, it is our intent to give more power to the customer, in an industry where the power is usually always with the service provider," Anand Subramanian, head - corporate communications, Olacabs, told Firstpost.

The company is the first cab service in the country to offer its smartphone users an Android and iPhone app that not only books a cab, but also helps customers track their cab in real time through their mobile phone.

The smartphone app launched in June 2012, allows the user access to a one-click booking facility where the customer can actually see the number of Olacabs available around you, how soon it can reach you and where it has reached -- all based on the customer's location.

"It does away with every kind of opaqueness, provides more transparency to the experience of booking a cab and brings the functionality of an application into something like an ordinary booking," Subramanian said.

The company also launched a missed call facility, in partnership with ZipDial. Under this facility, a customer receives a phone number with every booking. Using that number, the customer can track where the cab is, the distance from destination and the time it will take to reach the pickup place -- all this by just giving a missed call to the number. The customer will then immediately be sent an SMS with those details.

"We are aware that we many customers may not have smartphones and not book through our app. For them we launched the missed call service on 22 December and it has been very well received. Around 20 percent of unique users each day use the missed call service," he told Firstpost. The business model, Subramanian said, was to give more power to the customer, more empowerment in that sense -- and so thinking of all the kinds of customers they have was a natural progression.

"Often, cab bookings become a hide and seek game between the customer and the cab service. We wanted to become an aggregator which brought all available cabs under one technology platform to channelise bookings, increase capacity utilisation for operators and increase choice for the customer. So when we were framing the model we thought of convenience, trust and transparency. The smartphone idea led us from one paradigm to another, where not everyone has a smartphone. So we developed alternatives like the missed call service. We want everybody and anybody to have the power and information, to choose and know, for free," Subramanian said.

The service is India's first aggregator of car rentals and point-to-point cab services and can be accessed through the web, through a mobile app or through a customer service centre. While it does not own its own fleet, Olacabs aggregates small fleet operators and single vehicle owners for better inventory utilisation which is pegged at 40-50 percent among small cab operators (ownership of 1-3 cabs). The cab owners benefit from Olacabs' network and technology platform, which in turn helps them procure customers and enhance their income through better inventory utilisation.

The company plans to further this model by adding new features like a custom pick up to its smartphone app-where a custom location pick up request can be made, a loyalty and referral programme-where one can invite friends to try the app and get rewards based on how many people referred have downloaded the app and also develop a wallet feature-where the customer can add a charge to their Olacabs wallet, which will get deducted when they use the service. Any remaining balance can be carried forward to be used on another trip. The company is also in the works of developing a Blackberry app.

Olacabs does not register private cab services like a Meru Cabs, Mega Cabs or Tab Cabs, and cannot be hailed off the roads. They operate with individual operators, but keep prices at standard levels. There is a minimum fare of Rs 100 for upto 5 kms in an Olacab after which every kilometer costs Rs 21. At the end of each trip, the customer gets an invoice of the fare details as an SMS and also via email through a simple android device with a billing application installed in every cab.

The service currently sees close to 3,500 bookings across Mumbai, Delhi NCR and Bangalore, each day and has over 1,200 registered operators in its system.

So, the next time a cab driver thinks of standing you up -- they know someone is watching them. And, it's not just God.

by Arlene Chang

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