A new contender is jostling for space on India’s busiest streets. It has all the fizz and pop of a gig economy business poised to bubble into urban mobility’s next big thing. Zipping through well-funded VC lanes, breaking every rule in the book and creating a stir is the humble bike-taxi.

Globally, for cities with dense per capita indexes and broken public transport, unorganised bike-taxi services like ojeks in Indonesia and boda-bodas in Uganda have always existed. Their need is immense and prices dirt cheap. Ojeks can range from $0.30 to $1.3 per ride, comparable to the average bus and auto fare in India.

India, plagued with similar problems, could also be a fertile playground to experiment with inexpensive, convenient and innovative bike-taxi models. According to a recent report by global location technology specialist TomTom, Mumbai has the world’s worst traffic flow. Delhi, meanwhile, ranks fourth, behind Bogota and Lima. The report states that trips in Mumbai peak-hour traffic take 65% longer than usual. In Delhi, it’s 58%.

Despite such potential for disruption, Goa was the only Indian state that allowed bike-taxis up until 2015. Elsewhere, they operate largely in a grey, underground market.

“The absence of a clear regulatory framework for bike-taxis in India is a loophole that transport companies can potentially exploit to run operations in Indian cities,” says a Bengaluru-based lawyer who consults on urban mobility issues.

And no company has negotiated this regulatory no man’s land better than Rapido. Founded by three engineering graduates—Aravind Sanka, Pavan Guntupalli and Rishikesh SR—Rapido launched in 2015 and has grown into the largest bike-taxi operation in India.

According to information sourced by The Ken, Rapido does close to 90,000 rides a day across 31 Indian cities. It’s one of the few bike-taxi startups that has survived the frequent regulatory maelstroms. Even heavy-weights like Ola and Uber have struggled. Their current bike-taxi operations pale in comparison to their cab footprint. Smaller players like DOT, Zingo, Rideji and Headlyt, meanwhile, were swallowed whole by a combination of unit economics and regulatory hurdles.

Rapido is bucking this trend. According to a recent news report, it’s all set to raise $50 million in a funding round led by WestBridge Capital, a Bengaluru-based investment firm. Sources tell The Ken this figure is closer to $75-100 million.

With Uber and Ola mounting little competition, Rapido is leading the pack in a juicy monopoly-like market. According to a Forbes interview with company co-founder Aravind Sanka, Rapido aims to hit 1 million rides a day in 2019.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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