#Asia Startups to the rescue as Delhi clamps down on cars

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Photo credit: Paul Simpson

Photo credit: Paul Simpson

The Indian capital is on the brink of a grand experiment. The landlocked megacity, often called the most polluted in the world, sees 9 million vehicles snaking their way through its dense roads every day. Of this, around 3 million vehicles are privately owned. But from January 1, this number is set to be halved. How?

By letting odd numbered cars run on odd dates and even numbered cars run on even dates. The Delhi government’s directive is aimed at cutting down on air pollution after dense smog and rising cases of respiratory illness set the alarm bells ringing. The state’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is himself known to suffer from chronic cough.

The decision has, however, unleashed a heated exchange among the 17 million residents of car-loving Delhi. Some say it’s a good beginning. Those against it say other factors are to blame for pollution and should be sorted out first.

But as the city willy-nilly hurtles down to the new year deadline, guess who is not complaining? Startups in the transportation sector, of course. Bus aggregators, cab operators, car pool, and rental startups are upping the ante. Yes, we are talking Ola, Shuttle, Uber, Meru, and the like.

Who is making hay

Ola Share

Ola

Ola has launched Ola Share, a social ride-sharing platform for Delhi-NCR. It will enable people traveling on the same route to commute together by introducing social groups on its app. Through it, colleagues from a workplace or friends from a college can share rides among themselves.

“We are excited to bring Ola Share to Delhi NCR at a time when the citizens and the government are taking a massive step to reduce on-road congestion,” Ishan Gupta, head of Ola Share, said in a statement.

It is offering a 50 percent discount on fares in the launch phase, that is, over the coming month. A user can join multiple groups or simply choose to share a ride with anyone.

Uber

And where there is Ola, can Uber be far behind? The company has just launched a carpooling service that will let Uber users share a ride with others passengers going the same way.

It will also allow private car owners to register on the Uber platform and give a ride to someone else for a fee while the company itself takes a commission on every ride.

Meru

And what is cab provider Meru doing? A major player in this space, it promises to augment its fleet of cars, all of which run on CNG (compressed natural gas, an eco-friendly alternative to gasoline).

“We are also launching a new feature soon called Ride Share which will help customers traveling in the same direction share their Meru taxi ride,” the company said in a statement.

Shuttl
shuttl1

Bus aggregator Shuttl, which handles over 13,000 rides a day on more than 60 routes in Delhi-NCR, has called the Delhi government’s initiative “path-breaking.”

“If we compare present data, Delhi only sees two days of fresh air each year on average, while Beijing has 42 such days,” Shuttl said in a statement which pointed out that Delhi has more cars than Bangalore, Mumbai, and Hyderabad combined.

It has launched a website to keep people updated on the new scheme. The good intentions notwithstanding, Tech in Asia found out this morning that it was nothing to write home about – carrying no data and just some news links to other websites.

Zoomcar

Then there is Zoomcar, a self-drive car rental firm in the Delhi-NCR region, which now plans to step up its services. “The world over self-drive is today seen as a green alternative to owning cars as it increases the functionality of cars, which end up being used only when it is absolutely necessary, thereby bringing down the overall number of cars on the road,” Greg Moran, CEO and co-founder of Zoomcar, said in a statement.

The company’s Zoom Commute package is aimed at corporate and office-goers. Customers can rent a vehicle from Monday to Friday at rates starting from INR 3,000 (US$45) for a week, including fuel.

However, Tech in Asia found that several of the cars in its stable of 2,000 vehicles run on diesel – the fuel widely blamed for Delhi’s deteriorating air quality. When asked about this, the company refused to comment.

Grumpy or happy: What the ‘Delhiwala’ is saying

cars1
Critics say the authorities should first crack down on emissions from thermal plants, factories, and dust from construction sites. Some say diesel cars and trucks are the main offenders.

Yet, others say that the government should first improve public transport before putting residents through the grind. The Delhi Transport Corporation runs over 3,100 buses. Besides these, the metro rail has a daily ridership of around 2.4 million. But this is not enough.

Some say the odd-even rule will add more cars to Delhi. Indeed, last week this Tech in Asia writer saw her immediate neighbors add a big, diesel-guzzling SUV to their existing fleet of three cars to beat the odd-even rule.

Those supporting the directive, however, say desperate times call for desperate measures. In November and early December, pollutant levels had soared to 12 times above the World Health Organization’s safety level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

“An uncle of mine passed away this week due to acute respiratory illness. My son has trouble breathing every now and then. We have to cooperate,” Kavita Bajeli-Datt, a freelance journalist, told Tech in Asia.

Asked how her family would manage the daily commute, she said, “I mostly work from home, so I won’t have a problem. My husband and his brother have decided to share their odd and even numbered cars on alternate days.”

Carrots and sticks

Photo credit: William Brawley

Photo credit: William Brawley

The odd-even rule will be implemented for 15 days after which its impact will be reviewed. During this period, all schools in Delhi will remain closed so that children don’t face a problem.

The rule does not apply to two-wheelers, three-wheeler auto-rickshaws, and cabs that run on CNG. Women drivers are also exempt from it.

To ease commuter woes, the Delhi government plans to add 6,000 buses to the city roads and is inducting more auto-rickshaws too.

In this battle against pollution, the government has found a friend in India’s Supreme Court, which has complemented the odd-even rule with a ban on the sale of diesel vehicles of 2000 cubic capacity and above in Delhi till March 31.

It has prohibited trucks from passing through the city to reach other states, besides barring all trucks that are more than 10 years old from the capital. An existing charge imposed on trucks making deliveries to Delhi was doubled to around INR 2,600 (US$39).

This post Startups to the rescue as Delhi clamps down on cars appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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