Have you tootled yet?

Published On: January 20, 2017 01:17 AM NPT By: The Week Bureau

The word ‘tootle’ is set to take on a whole new meaning in our valley’s vocabulary. In case you haven’t noticed it already, there are people around the capital going around town giving perfect strangers a lift or two on their bikes. And it isn’t a random act either. It’s a system that is allowing Kathmanduities to move about the capital with ease.
Cofounder of Tootle, Sikchit Bhatta, though clarifies their stance from the get go. They aren’t a transportation company but a tech company and what they have come up with is a very efficient, homegrown app. 

The idea for it apparently came about very organically. As anybody who has lived in Kathmandu can attest, traveling around the city can be the stuff nightmares are made of at times. However, consider this, the next time you want to go somewhere, you simply use an app to get yourself a lift from among the thousands of bike and scooter riders in the valley, who might be going the same way as you are, for a nominal amount. Indeed, you don’t have to squeeze yourself inside the already overcrowded microbuses or pay an overpriced taxi fare. 

Tootle has only had a soft launch so far. They are yet to officially introduce themselves in the market. But the initial buzz has already got them around 400 riders registered on the app as Tootle partners offering rides. So once officially launched, Bhatta expects this to be a “massive thing”. He reasons that it isn’t only about simplifying commuting for those in the city. This system could ease the current traffic congestion, minimize pollution as well as be an extra income source for those interested, particularly youngsters. The idea of hitching a ride via Tootle seems like a noble one. 

It’s with these exciting prospects that the Tootle office is working with a team of youngsters. But apart from running the operations as well as looking after the technological development aspects, they themselves have also been actively offering lifts via their app. 

The business of inculcating a new practice
Promoting a new concept in the public is obviously a daunting task and it’s the challenge that Tootle is working to overcome. Folks at Tootle aren’t worried about their capabilities of fine-tuning their services (though they are currently working on it as well). With more users and feedback, they are confident that they will be able to do so over time. The more pressing matter at the moment, in their opinion, is to help people shake off their initial reservations. 

The team is keen to address that this arrangement is not one of a driver and passenger dynamic. Rather they are focusing on establishing “the tootle culture” where you are help one another out by assisting them to get around town in a more convenient and economical manner. Even if one is taking a ride via the app today, they could also be offering a ride tomorrow. They are even thinking of launching a campaign to encourage tootle users to give a fist punch to the one who comes to pick them up or share a hand shake at the end of the lift to emphasize this value of the brand. It’s a trend that they hope will catch on.

Further, Bhatt also talks about promoting dignity in labor. The earning from becoming a Tootle partner might not be substantial, but it does help riders earn a quick buck. The money could be for the week’s petrol refill, a movie date or a couple of mobile recharge cards. Either way, he believes, Tootle can become a platform through which you can promote respect for such labor.

On route to being tech savvy
The features designed for and incorporated in the technology have been influenced by personal and professional experiences. Bhatta calls the app a mere façade behind which they have had to develop an entire system that helps run the logistics of the Tootle concept. Starting from recruiting drivers online to building a whole new payment platform, they have had to take care of the minutest details. Bhatta’s previous experiences working in the telecom industry and banking sector apparently proved to be quite handy. He used knowledge gathered during those tenures to simplify processes such as sending notifications as well as making online payments.

With a relaxed, free flowing office environment, Ayush Subedi, research and development engineer at Tootle, shares that many feedbacks from colleagues and clients alike have been incorporated to solve the kinks of the apps. There have apparently been many times when their ideas have changed accordingly. Subedi gives an example of one of their booking features. The user has the option of asking for the ride immediately or after 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour later. He shares that this wasn’t their original concept but actually an addition after there were some complaints regarding the matter.
But everything that has been developed with the app hasn’t all been about functionality and performance. Subedi reveals that personally his most favorite feature is the tracker that shows the user whereabouts of the rider who is coming to pick them up. He describes it as the most fun and accurate thing in the whole app.

For the sake of security
One doesn’t need to have a vivid imagination to agonize about the possible security risks of developing a habit of taking lifts from strangers. Bhatta also confirms that security is an aspect that they are giving utmost priority to. They are addressing the issue by developing multiple features in the app for their users. 

To start with, one of their features is the safety SMS. When you hail a ride from tootle, you can choose to send SMS to a predefined number of people, informing them about the location from where you are taking a ride and the destination you are headed to, along with the number of the bike that is being used. 

Similarly, another feature allows users to choose the gender of the biker who will come to pick them up. There is a tab that depicts gender preferences and both female and male users can either pick bikers of the same sex or, for those who don’t consider this an issue, they can click on the icon that shows lift offers from both men and women.

There are plans to add more security features for the convenience of Tootle users. Bhatt informs us that they are working on a technology that enables users to send real time location tracker to their family members or friends. Another goal of theirs is to figure out a way to protect the users and riders phone numbers by making sure it doesn’t get swapped unnecessarily. Even though this tends to be a complex technology, Tootle is reportedly working on it.

Despite these efforts though, Bhatta also believes the security concerns shouldn’t be blown out of proportions either. If we consider taking a taxi safe then getting on a bike should be deemed safer because here at least you are in an open environment. And since all the riders are registered with Tootle, there isn’t much threat to begin with. 

Currently, Tootle is offering its services from 8 am to 8 pm making it the perfect transport service if you want to commute in busy Kathmandu. Bhatta says the Tootle team is working on making it a smooth and efficient system and will further work on perfecting it in the days to come.

About the app

Tootle primarily has two apps, one for the user and one for the Tootle partner, or riders who wish to offer rides. It’s very simple to register with them as you can carry out the process online. All you need to do is upload your license number and a photo of the license, then open an e-sewa account. This way you don’t even need to go to their office for payments.

For the users i.e. those looking for lifts, after downloading the tootle app, finding your way around it is very easy. They are using Google map to spot your location as well as see the number of rides available in your area. One simply needs to set up their pick up location and drop off location to start the booking process. 

The app automatically gives you all the necessary information as well as options. You will see the estimated distance of your travel and accordingly, the cost of the lift. You can pick your gender preference as well as the means with which you will pay. Though you can pay with cash, Tootle is encouraging users to pay digitally via e-sewa. Further, when you start their services, they will give you a bonus balance of Rs 500 to test their services, and if you are satisfied you can always top up the balance.  

One can book the lift as per the available timing options and after confirming the booking, the app also shows the real time location of your pick up. You have the option of tracking them on the map and a voice notification will inform you when the rider is two minutes away from your location.

Text: Priyanka Gurung, photos: Pratik Rayamajhi

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