When in Mumbai, the black and yellow cabs are my friend. However, there are days you need a car to wait on you, or it is sultry enough in a city like Mumbai to pop into an airconditioned radio cabs. I’ve had it with the regular fleet cab services such as Meru, Mega, TabCabs and what have you, primarily because the cabs do not provide a fleet cab experience anymore. Since demand far outstrips supply, many a times it is a game of dice. You sometimes get a confirmed cab booking or a last minute text message saying the cab company has no cabs to allocate. Cue to flagging a cab on the road to the airport or wherever… All the last minute stress you wanted to save comes right back into play.
I discovered OlaCabs right about this time when I was done with this mess around. Ola works on a different model than the rest of the fleet cabs, in the sense, they are aggregators and not operators. What they have done is to organise smalltime cab operators with 1 or a few cabs under their banner, provided them with the scale and technology to interface with a big set of customers. And the tourist taxi permits which are issued to these cabs are easier to get and without a cap, as compared to the taxi permits issued to fleet cabs, which have a cap in a city like Mumbai, and were stopped from issuance ages ago. Each taxi permit, which is transferable now goes around for Rs. 1 Lakh or whereabouts (USD 2,000).
Which meant, Ola was going to be able to accept a reservation on their website or phones to get me a cab a day, week or a month in advance. And confirm the cab for me there and then, rather than telling me about the availability 20 minutes ahead of the appointed time. There rates in Mumbai, when they started operations were pretty good as well, Rs. 18 per kilometer, which was cheaper than the fleet cabs. Talking about prices, I love the fact that they have a flat out pricing and no different pricing for day and night pricing.
What also got marks from my side for Ola was the use of technology. There are no meters, but cellphones provided to all cabs, who work with GPS to measure the amount of distance covered and display a fare accordingly. The invoice comes to you in your email. To avoid pranksters or people who may call and then not take a cab, you have to put down a security deposit of Rs. 100 via credit/debit card adjusted against your fare. They also have a snazzy app on the iPhones as well as Android phones for you to locate the nearest cab and bring it to you.
Apart from using Ola as a city taxi, you could also use them for outstation hires and as a local rental cab. The fleet is expansive, and you can get everything from a compact car to a luxury sedan to suit your needs. I have, at various occasions, ended up hiring a compact or a sedan for moving around the city when I have a lot of things to do in one day, and the rates are reasonable for a chauffeur driven hire. Sometimes, you even get an upgrade if they don’t have the cab in your category. Most rental cabs charge you from their point of origin to their point of return, which in a city like Mumbai can be quite an expense to your pocket because the cab coming to your door could itself be 10-15 kilometres chargeable to you. With Ola, you pay from your door to wherever you leave the city rental, not from the cab company’s starting point.
All the good things said, Ola does not come without its fair share of troubles like other companies would. At one instance, I have had a taxi come up who was supposed to drive me from a meeting venue to home, but the driver was clueless of the directions and drove away to a different direction. I just had to say bye bye to him on a highway because I was not happy with this experience.
Another time, they had hiked their rates from Rs. 18 per km to Rs. 21 per km in Mumbai, and there was no intimation to me by the chauffeur or the company that the new rates would be charged (I had booked those cabs when the old rates were existing). Delayed dispatches and rude drivers (I had both these circumstances in one go this Sunday) are some of the other experiences you should be mindful of.
I reached out to Olacabs in these circumstances, and what was surprising was that the management tried to justify their actions sometimes, in cases where these were not justifiable acts.
Before you do try and check out the service, you should always check out the promotions they have in place, which sometimes make the whole thing worth it. For instance, in Bangalore, they started an airport pickup/drop offer where you could get a flat rate of Rs. 500 from anywhere in the city. The other alternative is the fleet cabs which cost anywhere from Rs. 700 to Rs 900 depending on your point of drop in Bangalore.They recently extended this offer to Delhi, where for Rs. 399 you could get an airport pickup/drop. I used these services twice over the past week.
Another great offer is what they called HAPPYOLA where from 11 AM – 4 PM and 11 PM – 4 AM, you get the city taxi service for Rs. 15 per km instead of Rs. 21 per km in Mumbai. That puts it a shade over the black and yellow and I am happy to pay that premium for a much better service. If you use their app, you usually get a 10% off on getting a cab. In Gurgaon, there is a Rs. 99 Olacab service which helps you get around town. For all of these, however, you have to announce the offer to avail it and will not be given automatically.
All in all, a good travel experience, however, be mindful of the pitfalls!