KATHMANDU, Dec 10: Jenish Shrestha had to walk home after a tiring day at work. Although he attempted to strike a deal with a cabbie to get home, it was all in vein as the driver was demanding excessive fare by refusing to go with fare meter on.
“I often avoid using cabs as the drivers are reluctant to go on meter and demand for excessive fare. More annoying is the fact that they sometimes refuse to take the costumers to the destination simply because they don't find customers in the specific location,” said Shrestha.
This is not the story of Jenish only. Many Kathmandu dwellers try their best to avoid using a cab. However, the introduction of Sarathi Cab Service has relieved many who are avoiding cabs just because they don't want to go through the hassle of bargaining with the driver.
“I am usually made to pay anything around Rs 500 to travel to Shantinagar from Ratnapark (a journey of around 4 km). With Sarathi, I only had to pay Rs 388 after being warmly received at Thamel that too after 9 PM. I am impressed by the fact that affordable taxi service is now just a call away,” Pratik Basyal said.
Sarathi is a new start-up with just 30 cabs in operation in the Kathmandu Valley. These cabs are serving around 500 passengers a day. The best thing about Sarathi is passengers do not have to bargain on fare with the driver. They can pay whatever the taximeter shows.
“It has been much easier for us as we don't have to bargain with the costumers time and again for the fares,” Chandra Kala Reuli, a taxi driver with Sarathi, told Republica. “Previously, we had to be unsure about whether or not we will find passengers. However, now with this network, it has also been easier for us to find passengers as we can know about their whereabouts beforehand,” added Reuli -- the only female taxi driver among the 30 drivers working with Sarathi.
The start-up is promoted by two youngsters Prakash Neupane and Ravi Singhal.
“The concept of online cab booking system is not new. Companies like Uber have gained popularity worldwide. Being a regular taxi user ourselves, we were well aware of the problems a taxi user would face,” Neupane said, adding: “Delving deeper, we were acquainted with the problems of all the three parties involved in taxi operation i.e. the owner, the driver, and the passengers.”
While most passengers complain about drivers demanding excessive amount of fare, Neupane said they, at times, have to bear heavy losses having to pay more rental charge than what they earned. “Moreover, for the cab owners, it is always the wellbeing of the car that matters the most. Similarly, they have to constantly cope with times when drivers constantly find excuse to stay on leave,” added Neupane.
According to Singhal, Sarathi drivers do not charge exorbitant fair. “They do not say no to a costumer and this service runs 24/7 which has been a major convenience for the passengers,” he added. “Likewise, as we provide a monthly salary of Rs 15,000 to the driver in addition to certain percent of the taxi fare, the drivers feel secure regarding their income.”
Sarathi also trains its drivers on use of technology and costumer courtesy which the drivers are finding very useful, Singhal said.
“Taxi owners have a secure source of income and can remain tension free regarding the condition of the car as it is taken care of by Sarathi itself. All transactions with the owners and the drivers are made through bank,” he added.
Although costumers are complaining about the limited number of cabs, the co-founders who aim to have 1,000 Sarathi cabs by the end of 2018 say that they do not want to compromise on quality for quantity. Efficient training must be given to the drivers before recruitment which takes time, they added.
Sarathi is the only one. Other online cab service providers like HODOR, Eddy Cab and Onver are also in the market. However, Sarathi has gained success in a short period of four months which, the co-founders claims, is because of their emphasis to training, and closely working with all the three parties involved rather than emphasizing on technology alone.
Photo: Ayam Shrestha/Republica A Sarathi cab being parked near Sundhara, Kathmandu, on Sunday.