The digital model does pose challenges to the prevailing auto-hailing process

The International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore conducted a study, spread over four months, on the way auto-drivers perceive apps such as Ola Auto. The work was presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Advancement of Socio- Economics at the University of California – Berkeley.

Excerpts from the authors’ paper:

Changing the way we hail autos

Recent conversations about apps in the transport sector make claims about how they are changing the way we commute. Studies in this area have mostly focussed on what it has meant for the passenger, often missing out on the provider of the service- the driver (of the cab or the auto). To understand the take of the much-berated drivers, we conducted a study in Bangalore over four months looking at how auto-drivers engage, interact and perceive apps in transport such as Ola Auto. The question that we tried to answer was whether such apps are indeed changing the way we travel. Our study found, that with the entry and uptake of Ola Auto, there has been a shift in the way auto-drivers and passengers interact.

Ola Auto attempts to replicate the way we hail autos off the roads. The passenger enters the intended destination on the selection of the auto option in the app. This request is shared with registered drivers in the vicinity, and if one of the drivers accepts the request the contact details are mutually shared by the app. It is the availability of this process on an app that is termed as convenient, cheap, easy and hassle-free for the passenger. But what does this mean for the auto-driver? From the perspective of the auto-driver two aspects which seem to undergo a shift are how rides are accepted or rejected, and who has the first right to the passenger.

Accepting the ride-request

While the law mandates that all ride-requests should be fulfilled by the auto-driver (excluding exceptional circumstances), the common experience is that the final decision to accept or decline a ride-request rests with the driver.

These decisions are based on considerations of distance, traffic situation, and weather conditions among others.

In the Ola Auto app, for the passenger, this continues to be replicated as the destination has to be compulsorily entered at the time of placing a ride-request. However, starting early 2016, Ola introduced a paid feature for its driver partners called Ola Premium, which preferentially allots ride-requests to the nearest Premium driver. If a driver is enrolled in the Premium feature, he cannot choose to accept or decline a ride. In case the destination isn’t of interest or convenience to the driver, he can cancel the ride-request. However, a cancellation can be a double-edged sword as the consequences of it are not completely known or understood by the drivers.

On the other hand, non-Premium drivers report getting fewer rides as they are now given the second preference to Premium drivers. This could reduce their incentive to continue using the app, as the primary reason drivers join Ola is to get access to more ride-requests.

Right of access

Typically, at auto-stands, auto-drivers respect the order of the queue, giving the ones who are ahead of them in the queue the first chance to the passenger. However, in Ola Auto, rides are allotted preferentially to Premium drivers, and in their absence on a first-come-first-serve basis to non-Premium drivers. While this is arguably convenient for the passenger, what this has meant for the drivers is that they have longer wait times, as well as fewer customers.

Auto-drivers point out that this has direct implications on their ability to earn especially in locations such as malls and railway stations, where following the queue is seen as definitely resulting in a passenger.

The Ola Auto app doesn’t follow the same set of rules, thus leading us to the question – who, then, enjoys the first right to the passenger?

Ola Auto does pose challenges to the prevailing auto-hailing process. For any entrant to be called a game-changer, sustainability of these new habits introduced by the app, is key.

What remains to be seen is whether these changes are adopted both by those on the app and off it and whether these changes are resulting in a better experience for not just passengers but drivers as well.

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