Smartphone Apps Ease Auto-Rickshaw Rides in Mumbai

The A-Rix Meter app calculates the distance and fare for an auto-rickshaw ride. Photo by A-Rix Meter.

This blog post is a part of the catalyzing new mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

In a city as large as Mumbai—with a population of more than 12 million people—transportation can be a challenge. While residents have a number of options in the form of buses, trains, taxis and auto-rickshaws, that doesn’t always translate to an easy commute. Buses and trains are overcrowded, and outdated mechanical meters make it hard for passengers to know whether they will get the right fare on a taxi or auto-rickshaw. Drivers have to refer to a constantly updated fare chart, meters are often tampered with, and fare charts are often fabricated. While Mumbai is in the process of rolling out electronic meters across the city, a number of “smart technology” entrepreneurship initiatives (as we’ve discussed in a previous post) have popped up in the auto-rickshaw sector to fill the gap in public knowledge about fare calculations.

In preparation for a comprehensive case study on the auto-rickshaw industry in Mumbai, EMBARQ India sat down with a number of the entrepreneurs involved in these efforts to get their take on the challenges in the sector and what motivated them to create their businesses.

The chart below showcases some of the transit apps and their features:

Date established Current # of users Fare meter GPS Calculate distance Pre-programmed fares for different cities Panic button Ridesharing Driver rating Cost
Tuk-Tuk Meter 2 Aug 2011 60,000 x x x x free
A-Rix Meter Feb 2012 500 x x x x Rs. 54.51
Suruk Aug 2010 40,000 x x x x x x free
Mumbai Auto June 2010 80,000 x x free
Smartmumbaiker April 2012 Invite-only x free
M-Indicator May 2010 2,500,000 x x x free


Features: Locations, Fares and Timetables

According to the app creators, the universal catalyst was to make it easier for passengers to correctly calculate fares without having to rely on the (often unreliable) mechanical meters and fare charts. This is an effort to give the passenger some measure of power and not be at the will of the driver. Several app creators also highlighted the difficulty of traveling to a new city and being unfamiliar with its fare rules. These apps give passengers the correct fare, as well as ensure that they are not being taken on a roundabout route. Many use GPS technology to measure the distance of the auto-rickshaw ride and pre-loaded fare rates for cities to calculate the correct fare.

The creators of Suruk went a step further than creating a tool for fare calculation, after a survey of auto-rickshaw users found that passengers’ main concern after tampered meters was safety. For that reason, the Suruk app incorporates a “panic button” so that users can alert an emergency contact with their location if in trouble. The app also allows users to rate drivers based on their registration numbers.

Mumbai Auto launched the day after a fare change in Mumbai that made the mechanical meters more complicated to read. The creators wanted a quick and easy solution, so users can just punch in the meter reading and instantly get the corresponding price.

M-Indicator is a one-stop shop for transit information in Mumbai. On the app, the user can access train and bus timetables and routes, as well as taxi and auto-rickshaw fares. They even include movie showtimes.

User Feedback

Most app creators have received enthusiastic feedback about their products. Tuk-Tuk Meter‘s creator said that lots of drivers have contacted the company and are excited to learn the actual distance they have traveled. The creator of Mumbai Auto and SmartMumbaikar mentioned that a few drivers have even downloaded their app to help calculate fares.

On the flip side, users of A-Rix Meter have mentioned that drivers are unhappy when they are shown how inaccurate their meter is. Overall, the apps have helped many people save time and money. They also can help users orient themselves in a new city. Simply, these apps were ahead of government action on a crucial problem: passengers not knowing the correct fare for their rickshaw ride.

It is important to note that these apps are only available on smartphones, which the majority of Mumbaikars (including drivers) don’t own. While users number in the tens of thousands, Mumbai is a city of more than 12 million. Large scale usage of these apps is not a practical solution to the problem and a more widespread fix is necessary.

Future Plans

There has already been a noticeable increase in electronic meters—or “e-meters”—in Mumbai and they are expected to be universal within a year. Each auto-rickshaw permit holder is required to install an electronic meter in their vehicle at their next annual fitness test. These meters show the distance, waiting time and actual fare to be paid. It will remain to be seen whether the replacement of mechanical meters will eliminate the need for these helpful apps in Mumbai. However, they will still be essential in cities across India where regulations regarding fares and meters differ. In addition, while the new e-meters are more difficult to tamper with, it may take some time for passengers to get accustomed to the accuracy of the new meters. These apps will continue providing users with a way to double-check the fares until they trust the e-meter’s reliability. Beyond that, most of the app creators also have ideas to expand their businesses along related paths. One thing is certain: these entrepreneurs won’t stop creating further innovations to improve the user experience and their ideas are applicable across cities in India and around the world.

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