Monday, October 30, 2017

The new public transport in town -- Ola Share and Uber Pool -- reducing congestion, pollution

Pic credit: Uber
Hiring cabs for commuting from point A to point B, was considered a sign of luxury. The hoi polloi took the bus, even if it meant waiting for half an hour or even one hour. A taxi was for that rare emergency.

There was a reason: the cost. Cabs were expensive, and simply not affordable.

Then came the technology that enabled a virtual aggregation of thousands of cabs which could be hailed remotely sitting at home, or wherever. One can even see the cab that is on its way to pick you up.

Uber, Ola and a few others, basically technology companies, became cab operators by even not owning a single cab.

The operational pattern changed, and prices dropped. Cabs became preferable.

Then came a tweak to the technology that enabled booking of the same cab by multiple people, who are headed in the same direction.

Prices dropped further, so much so that even if it was costlier than the bus, the convenience combined with the saving of time, made cabs a still more preferable medium of commute.

Besides pricing, cab services took the form of public transport.

Amazing technology

The way passengers are booked on to Ola Share and Uber Pool is a remarkable piece of technology. The algorithm knows the seating capacity of four, and after a ride has begun with the first booking, the remaining seats are filled as and when there is a booking by anyone who wishes to travel in the same direction the cab is headed.

On many occasions, the cab I travelled in had its full quota of four passengers most of the time, with a new passenger being added within minutes of one being dropped. A driver once told me riders were being added continuously for nearly four hours, he switched off the booking option so that he could take a break and have some snacks.

When I use Ola Share or Uber Pool , I get a feeling that the mode of transport loosely resembles commuting by bus. Instead of physically waving your hand at an incoming bus in order to board it, here you book via an app. Like in the case of a bus, there are people getting in and getting out.

However, unlike a bus, I don't have to wait without having any idea of when the cab will come; I can actually see on a map the cab approaching. And secondly, bus routes are fixed, but the cab route is flexible enough: I am able to get off precisely at the point where I want to go.

Don't take your car, book ride-sharing cab

My suggestion is, as far as possible, take a ride-sharing cab instead of either taking your own car or booking one for just yourself. Not only you save money, but you reduce traffic congestion, and thereby pollution too. Of course, an Ola Share or a Uber Pool might take 15 or even 20 minutes extra compared to when travelling alone, but that is a small sacrifice for the many benefits. Remember, it's still a lot better than bus, is it not?

It was so shocking to see government in some States (Karnataka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu) either banning carpooling or thinking of it. I hope the government recognizes app-based ride-sharing cab services as a public transport service on a par with buses, encourages it as a matter of policy; and perhaps even launches one of its own.

There will be fewer cars on roads, there will be lesser pollution, and people will be able to travel more comfortably and reach their destinations faster.