Ola makes inroads into India's hinterlands with bike taxi service

Topics Ola | cab aggregators

Ola said it aims to increase the number of bike-partners by three times to over one million by next year
At a time when metropolitan cities are considered to be large markets for the cab industry, Ola Bike, the micro-mobility service of the ride-hailing firm, is quietly tapping India’s hinterland.

It is offering this service in small towns and cities as it is witnessing huge demand for its bike taxis in these markets. 

Ola Bike service is currently present in 200 cities and towns. 

The SoftBank-backed company said 80 per cent of these markets are small towns, with a population of less than 10 lakh. Around four out of every 10 Ola Bike trips are taken in small towns. Ola, which competes with US rival Uber, said the growth for its bike category had increased steadily from 20 per cent to 40 per cent in the past six months. 

Ola said it aims to increase the number of bike-partners by three times to over one million by next year. Most of them would come from small towns and cities.

“Ola Bike is helping build sustainable livelihoods for the fast-growing network of close to 300,000 bike partners from cities and towns, creating opportunities like never before for the youth of the nation,” said Arun Srinivas, chief sales and marketing officer, at Ola. 

“Ola has revolutionised mobility in India with unique offerings across cabs and auto-rickshaws and we are excited to bring the same experience through Ola Bike.”

While auto-rickshaws catered to a section of the demand, the gap of affordable transport for single commuters is still huge. Ola said it is introducing a tailor-made solution to address the specific mobility needs of people in smaller towns through Ola Bike. 

According to the company, Ola Bike on an average, is 30 per cent faster and 50 per cent more cost-effective than four-wheelers for distances between 6 and 8 kilometres. 

For instance, Kota, a small town in Rajasthan, is a hotspot for coaching centres and home to thousands of students. Most of these students cannot afford to hail a cab or an auto-rickshaw. The company said Ola Bike, on the other hand, costs 50 per cent less, is available round-the-clock and offers a hassle-free experience, leading to many of the city’s residents using a mobility platform for the first time in their lives. 

Ola Bike, which was first launched in 2016, is now accessed by over 150 million users across 200 cities and towns. Ola said it has plans to expand three times of its current scale and grow deeper into India’s hinterland. 

Most of this new growth is expected to come from the smallest towns and even villages, where the only mode of transport is state-run buses.

States such as UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have come out with regulation for bike taxis, considering the service enables livelihood opportunities apart from building mobility. 

Others such as Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha are working towards bringing bike taxis under the ambit of the law. However, states like Karnataka and Maharashtra consider it to be illegal. In March this year, the Karnataka government banned the services of  Ola for six months in the state, after the state transport department found that the firm was operating bike taxis.

Another start-up, Rapido — which runs a bike taxi platform — had also come under the radar of the Karnataka transport department. 

This year, transport officials seized hundreds of bike taxis that were being operated by various aggregators, as part of a drive against running bike taxis illegally.

Officials pretending to be customers had booked bike taxis through the aggregator platforms and caught the two-wheeler owners. Most of them were unaware that they were violating the law and faced action.

India is the world’s largest two-wheeler market. Nearly 63,000 two-wheelers are sold in the country every day, and half the households in big cities and developed rural areas own two-wheelers, according to industry sources. 

Two-wheelers constitute 72.4 per cent of registered vehicles on the road and are a preferred mode of transport to and from work for about one in three Indians. 

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