In November 2015, when Aravind Sanka and his two fellow ex-IITians, Rishikesh SR and Pavan Guntupalli, were looking at opportunities to pivot from their on-demand intra-city truck service startup theKarrier, they found themselves pontificating on a rather simple life query; how can a common man travel from one place to another, with maximum convenience and affordability?
The answer to this question should have been, on two legs.
Another matter altogether that the founders thought of motor bikes as the ideal. Sanka describes them as the “ultimate solution” and launched an on-demand bike-taxi service, Rapido in Bengaluru. “Why bikes? Because the asset cost is less and fuel efficiency is high,” he says. “Also, there is no convenient, affordable option. Right now, there are only two options for any consumer in India: one is low-cost, low-convenience public transport or a high-cost, high-convenience option like app-based cab aggregators (Ola and Uber).”
Sanka isn’t alone. In December 2015, a month after Rapido began operations, Ashutosh Johri and Manu Rana came up with their own version of the bike taxi, called Baxi, and launched in Gurugram and Faridabad.
Bike taxis are by no means a novel concept. Walk by the streets of Bangkok or Jakarta (where they’re called Ojeks), and you’ll see them everywhere. In countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, they’re colloquially called ‘boda boda’. But in India—the largest two-wheeler market in the world with an active customer base of over 135-140 million as per industry numbers—they are just about setting shop.
Red to green
Over the last 18 months, India has seen several startups attempt bike taxis. But thanks to the lack of funds, poor market acceptance and unclear regulations, most of them shut down. There are signs of change though, especially in the last six months. Several state governments, including Haryana, Telangana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Mizoram, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh have regularised bike taxis at various stages in 2016.
In December 2016, the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (MoRTH) adopted in toto the report of the committee, which proposed a taxi policy guideline for urban mobility. Allowing bike taxis, and specifically private bike sharing was among the committee’s key recommendations. Rapido and Baxi represented the bike taxis at the consultation. “Our major pitch was that on both the drivers’ and customers’ side, we are targeting the masses. The existing services target the top 10 million, we are targeting the next 300-500 million,” says Sanka.
But since transport is a concurrent list subject (topics that come under the jurisdiction of both the central and state governments), regulations vary across states.