Monthly Archives: September 2013

From auto driver to advocate: a Bangalore woman’s story

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | 2 Comments

[Editor’s Note: It’s been five years since I moved to Bangalore. During our first few weeks settling into a new city, new office, new apartment, etc. auto rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers were our best friends. One of the taxi drivers who drove us around in his new Tata Indica was 22-year old  Nagaraj. We still remember him because he was: a) studying for his LLB degree on nights and weekends while b) driving the Indica during the day, and c) making the car’s installment payments. What a remarkable story to welcome us to Bangalore, we thought. After reading our recent post, a blogger from iChangemycity shared a similar heart-warming and a more powerful against-all-odds story about a female auto driver who goes on to become a lawyer.]

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

Among thousands of autorickshaw drivers, Venkatalakshmi was unique in attitude, spirit, confidence and in her goals. For 13 years, she drove an auto that took care of her family’s subsistence that aided her to become what she dreamt of. Becoming a lawyer is what she aspired for and today, she is one. It was during the last five years of her life as an auto driver that she spent preparing for her law exams and in 2010 had successfully graduated from Babu Jagjivanram Law College in Basaveshwarnagar. She is now a successful lawyer with a dream and agenda of her own.

She was an ‘unwanted’ child of her parents as they were expecting the birth of a boy. She was brought up by her maternal uncle who inspired her to chase her dreams irrespective of her limitations. She aspired to be a police official and this was the time when she got into a legal tangle with some land sharks trying to grab her land. There were attempts even to kidnap her and this was when she was exposed to the corruption in the police department. It only made her to give up her aspiration of becoming a police officer.
While driving her auto, she got to interact with people of various backgrounds which helped her to develop her people skills. She travelled across the city which gave her a sense of location of offices and their jurisdiction. She was the sole bread winner for a long period of time, as her husband was not physically fit and her daughter was still studying in middle school. She also had to regularly go to her farm to supervise the cultivation.
The only time available for her to study for law was when she was at home and the time she spent waiting on road between trips. For her, the side of a pavement, an auto junction or even a traffic jam was study time.
On why she aspired to be a lawyer, Venkatalakshmi feels that it is a way to fight for justice. Her heroes are M.N.Venkatachalliah and Anna Hazare, are among them as they have the fight in them despite their ripe age. She has worked in the Gem and Jewel industry and even in an insurance company that helped her to get knowledge on the legal aspects of these sectors.
Asked on whether her stint as an autodriver had helped her law practice, Venkatalakshmi has an emphatic Yes for an answer. She  relates to clients with ease, and driving through the potholes of Bangalore city had taught her the values of patience and fortitude.

This article was originally published on the iChangemycity blog by Janaagraha’s Divya Komala. 


Na hum extra maangte hain, na hum lete hain

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

(Translation for non-Hindi readers: Neither do I ask for extra money, nor do I take it when a customer offers it.)

My regular auto commuter friend, who has a clear tipping policy for five star auto drivers, was left dumbfounded recently. After peering at the meter, she gave a Rs. 15 tip to the driver. He calmly returned the money and uttered the words Madam, na hum extra maangte hain, no hum lete hain.

This, my friends, is the A+ grade for a five star auto rickshaw driver. You cannot ask for more. He agrees to your destination. Goes on meter. Has a perfectly functioning meter. Drives cautiously and follows all traffic rules. He is polite and courteous to a fault. And he refuses to take tips!

For someone in the service profession to decline a tip, what is it but the very definition of a moral compass?

There are two important and related questions that need to be answered in some detail.

  1. Why do some auto drivers ask for extra money?
  2. Why do many auto drivers NOT want to go to YOUR destination?

The answers are not as straightforward as you might think. There’s a method to their madness. At least for a segment of auto drivers. Stay tuned. Subsequent posts will shed light on these questions.




Income determinism, rhythm and a daily routine

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
World music band Autorickshaw (I kid you not!)

World music band Autorickshaw (I kid you not!)

Three months ago, we had a fascinating conversation with an auto driver in in his early 50’s. Satish (name changed for this story) had the entire office’s attention as he spoke about his family, his expenses, his daily routine, healthcare challenges, rickshaw camaraderie and several other sundry topics. He was one of the initial auto drivers who spoke really good English (we’ve since met many more who speak impeccable English) but that isn’t why I remembered him today.

The striking aspect of his driving life was a “school gig” that runs 10 months of a year. A gig that pays him Rs. 5,000 per month and engenders two virtuous cycles – a) the Rs. 50,000 annual income gets directly earmarked for his family’s housing rent , and b) the creation of two trip anchor points (drop off kids to school  7:30 to 8:30am and pick them up from school at 3pm). Throw in a two hour lunch and an occasional nap and he has himself a semblance of rhythm and income determinism, albeit partial. A work ethic that has him pulling 12-15 hour working days ensures his family’s other financial needs are met.

Today I heard a story that takes income determinism to a whole new level.

This is a story that starts with my regular commuter friend – the same one who provided fodder for the Auto rickshaws and tipping post. My friend is an exacting commuter who only picks five star auto drivers. Today’s driver (who obviously did not ask for extra money) suddenly stopped his auto after crossing a signal. Turns out he wanted to buy a copy of the Bangalore Mirror (yes – English). After reaching the destination, as my friend took some time to pay the fare, the driver was in no rush. He was already settled comfortably behind the Mirror pages, reading. As he took the money, he explained that his next “scheduled” ride was still 20 minutes away. Now quite impressed, my friend handed the driver an mGaadi flier and gave a brief verbal pitch. The GPS solution perked him up – apparently he had read about it in the papers.

Ten minutes later our Ops team got a call from him. His day starts at 4:30am and ends at 6pm. Nothing particularly remarkable about his hours — we know many drivers who pull in even longer shifts. What’s amazing about his schedule is that he has regular customers from 4:30am to 11:30am every singe (week)day – a staggering 7 hours of a daily routine! He’s eager to join the mGaadi network and we are very eager to meet him. I’m sure there’s more to his story.


Sparse networks and commuting hubs

By | Autos, Commuting | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

Most often we describe mGaadi as a commuter marketplace. A marketplace where sellers are auto rickshaw/taxi drivers and buyers are commuters. Any new marketplace has an added challenge (over non-marketplace consumer startups) of building two groups of stakeholders (buyers and sellers) in parallel. A commuter marketplace by definition has two additional dimensions to contend with – location and time.

Sprawling Bangalore is home to 8.5 million people and spread over an area of 2,190 sq. km. Even as we constrain the initial scope of our mission to only auto rickshaw commuting, we have our work cut out. Since we don’t have magicians on our team nor do we have astronomical resources, we can’t just “boil the commuting ocean.” We have been testing mGaadi in pilot mode for the past few months with a small network of auto rickshaws and commuters. Predictably, we ironed out a few bugs along the way but the main issue we’re grappling with is matching commuters and auto rickshaws at the right place at the right time.

Constraints are a beautiful thing for startups.

I mean it.

Constraints give a much-needed focus.

The way we are focusing mGaadi’s efforts is probably not terribly original but let me share it anyway.

Our customer enrollment efforts will largely spent in satisfying the needs of regular office-goer commuters. Even that is too broad a brush. So we are starting with a long list of commuting hubs (top office locations and residential districts) and whittling it down to a short list.

I hope you are wondering about our whittling down process because I’m going to tell you now. 🙂


We’ll continue recruiting commuters into our pilot but our sweet spot commuters are ones with deterministic and regular commuting patterns (e.g. “EGL to Koramangala between 5pm and 6pm every weekday” or “Dairy Circle to Meenakshi Temple around 7pm every Monday” or “Old Airport Road to Whitefield ITPL between 7 and 7:30am every weekday”).

Our driver enrollment efforts will be disproportionately focused around satisfying commuting demand around the short list of hubs. Once we start satisfying a majority of trip requests in the first set of commuting hubs, we would add the second set. And that’s how we hope to march. Hub after hub with expanding time windows until… (you get the drift).

This is the part where I get to ask “what can YOU do for us?”

If you match the profile of our sweet spot commuters, do signup pronto and our bots will quickly follow up with you. Do you have colleagues or friends who might be interested? What are you waiting for? Spread the love.

Thank you.


The Five Star Auto Driver

By | Autos | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

Since five star evokes visions of opulent hotels and spendthrift customers, it behooves me to disenchant readers from that connotation. This post is about ratings. The five star auto rickshaw driver is one who scores a perfect five (on a 5-star rating scale) time and again.

Ratings are at the heart of the mGaadi service experience. Our brand promise to commuters is simple – rate every trip/driver and the pool of rated drivers grows rapidly and higher rated drivers increasingly get assigned to more trips. Voila! Commuter delight.

What’s in it for the drivers besides the promise of more customers? Our answer is a whole range of ratings-based incentives but that’s fodder for a different post.

Back to the auto rickshaw driver, what are the patterns of behavior that could yield him a five star rating?
For starters, here’s our shortlist of dos and donts.

  1. Agreeing to commuter’s destination and not asking for extra money (at the start of or during a trip).
  2. Presence of a functional and accurate meter
  3. Safe driving (no jumping signals or risky maneuvers)
  4. Polite interactions with commuter

Our product workflow has been designed such that when an mGaadi Driver arrives to pick up a commuter, he has already agreed to the destination and not demand extra money (point #1 above). The GPS tracking enables us to validate that the auto rickshaw meter is accurate (point #2 above). Upon trip completion, the commuter’s most important todo is to rate the driver/trip. If behaviors #3 and #4 are not satisfactory, the driver may not get a five star rating. The following behaviors are also likely to result in a lower rating.

  • Driving constantly talking on mobile phone.
  • Driver not having sufficient change.
  • Driver refusing to stop smoking even after commuter’s exhortation.
  • Limited cartographic knowledge leading to commuter angst and delay.
The mGaadi team believes that the five star auto driver is not a unicorn, at least in Namma Bengaluru. Based on several hundred conversations and interviews with commuters and drivers, we believe there are thousands of auto rickshaw drivers who dont demand extra money. How big is this segment of auto drivers? We don’t know yet but they are obviously a great match with the mGaadi philosophy and we are constantly seeking (and recruiting) them into our network.
This is where you (Bangalore commuter and resident) come in to the picture. We are going to start a Calling Bangalore’s Five Star Auto Drivers campaign and we need your help. Every time you have a satisfactory auto rickshaw commute (i.e. a driver scoring high on the above 4-point shortlist), we urge you to capture the driver’s name and mobile number and send to us – either as  a comment on this post, on our Facebook page or on our Twitter feed.