The app cab! A taxi war in Bangalore!

Autorickshaws are quite an expensive option in most parts of Bangalore. Affectionately called the three wheeled pirates, they most often try to strip you of all the cash you have in the wallet. Its not uncommon to hear them ask for three digit sums for walk-able (albeit a long walk) distances. Refusal is a part of their daily routine. Meters run faster than the auto - just like how a stopwatch runs! In certain areas, BMTC helps them a lot by not operating buses - and passengers are left to the mercy of these pirates who operate vehicles that are otherwise unfit to operate, and charge princely sums.

Sometime in the 2008-2009 period, the first organised taxi operator appeared in Bangalore - the good ol' Meru Cabs. The green coloured taxis helped a lot of people escape from the auto pirates and made for comfortable journeys in Bangalore. But the fares were far from being called economical - they are today the most expensive cab option in Bangalore.

Fast Forward to end of 2010 - Ola Cabs was born. Ola was the first of its kind - a new group of mobility providers - Cab Aggregators were born. Ola worked as a middleman is connecting the customer to the provider. One could book cabs on the Ola website, who would direct the nearest cab to the passenger - mobile apps weren't so much in vogue those days. The fares were much lesser than Meru. While Meru cabs were owned by the operator, Ola cabs weren't. The level of service depended on the driver. About half a year later, another cab aggregator began operations - Taxiforsure. Taxiforsure offered slightly lesser rates than Ola. In the meantime, Ola hiked their rates.
A leading app cab operator!
The world leader in cab aggregation - Uber started operations in India sometime in 2013. The initial model of Uber was of providing high end premium vehicles - the likes of Mercedes Benz. Sometime later, they started offer cheaper services - they offer an array of vehicles right from TATA Indicas and Swifts all the way to Toyota Corollas and Camrys today.

The actual fare war began sometime in 2014 - when Uber's low cost services came in. Ola dropped its fares to Rs. 10 per kilometre, while Taxiforsure (TFS) remained around Rs. 12 per kilometre. The aggregator operations took a murky turn in early 2015 when Uber was banned in Delhi over a rape allegation. Crackdowns by various states followed and quite a lot of these operations were at stake. None of these operators had a taxi operator license, and they did not own any of the cabs. Cabs were owned by drivers, and these operators (Uber/Ola/TFS) acted only as a medium for passengers to get connected to the driver. The operators assumed no responsibility of safety or other aspects of the passengers. The crackdowns and bans got its first victim when TFS was acquired by Ola. By now Ola grew up as the country's largest cab aggregator - offering services in most parts of the country.

The App taxis kept lowering their fares time and again as competition strengthened. Fares dropped to Sub Rs.10 levels - all the way to Rs. 6/km.

But.. Are these taxis really cheap?

A quick look at taxi bills mailed by aggregators like Ola or Uber would be an eye opener. All the operators charge a ride time charges on every minute the cab runs. In a city like Bangalore, where walking is often faster than using a vehicle, it takes an average 3-5 minutes to travel a kilometre, the actual taxi fares work out much higher than the advertised rates. Then there is Surge Pricing. The operators claim the surge price is to help have more cabs on the road at peak hours - the same logic as auto drivers asking for over the meter fare during peak hours/late hours.

But, Surge pricing doesn't have a logic. You end up having surge prices at mid afternoons or late nights, or early mornings - anytime! And these surges do not seem to have an upper limit - 4.0x is among Uber's favorite surges. The surge isn't only applicable for the kilometre rate - but applies to the base fare and the riding charges as well! Essentially, you end up paying atleast Rs. 4 per minute of travel, a base fare of about Rs 140 and a kilometre fare of about Rs. 28/km (calculation based on advertised fares of uberGO). And, yes - the distance surcharge levied by Uber also gets surged.

Although the advertised fares are far cheaper, the customer ends up paying a lot more. Sometime back, I had hired an app cab to the airport. The operator advertised a special airport offer of Rs. 499. A very small star near the amount led me to read the terms and condition. The fare was applicable only for the first 30 kilometres - and it would cost Rs. 16/km beyond 30kms. A back of the envelope calculation made me think it was still cheaper than hiring an airport taxi. The final amount was somewhat shocking - the 46.13kms ride cost me Rs. 986 - that is almost Rs. 21.38/km - much higher than the Rs. 19.50/km charged by airport taxis! The breakup of the fare was interesting - Rs. 499 for 30 kilometres, Rs. 258.08 for the additional 16.13kms (over 30kms), Rs.99.49 for 99.49 minutes of travel time (the first 5 minutes was free), a Toll fee of Rs. 80 and Tax of Rs. 49.68! The app cabs levy a toll of Rs. 80 each way - totalling Rs. 160 per trip - the actual toll is only Rs. 120! So, where does the remaining amount go? What about the promises of cheap trips?

Okay.. the cab operators sneak out with a small sentence - Airport rates may vary displayed below their rate cards. I had another experience with the same cab operators discussed above, where a person from their customer support calls up about 10 minutes after the ride and informs that I was wrongly charged - I had paid around Rs. 100 less it seems! Because they had decided to have a special rate for Kochi airport with a minimum flag down distance of 20kms - and I had traveled only 13.26kms, and was liable to pay the rest. I did give a dressing down for not intimating the fares before the ride began.

App cabs are loved by passengers for the ease of booking - just fire up the app, a couple of clicks later, the cabbie calls up to confirm your location and picks you up. A quick search on cheaper cab options in Bangalore literally swept me off my foot. The humble KSTDC cabs are much cheaper if you make an advance reservation through their call centre - being an approved airport taxi operator, they pick you up right outside the airport as well!