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The Explosion of Ola

I've been using taxis and autos quite a bit lately for my commuting and something I've noticed is a sudden proliferation of Ola autos. Every second or third auto on the streets seems to have an Ola-issue mobile phone and stand. Yesterday, I was in an Ola auto - I hadn't booked using the app or anything, the auto I climbed into just happened to work with Ola - and I started chatting with the driver. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to an Ola taxi guy about the company. Here's what I've pieced together/guessed about the Ola business model from these two conversations.

The first thing I learned was that the cabbies and auto drivers have to pay to join the ranks of Ola drivers. This actually came as something of a surprise to me - I always figured Ola just had extremely deep pockets and hired lots of drivers. The driver pays Ola for the mobile phone, phone stand and a couple of additions to his auto/cab. All the Ola-branded cars you see going around must be paid for separately, once again by the cab driver. 

These Ola phones come completely loaded - they have the Ola app and a data connection pre-installed. However, the driver can't use the phone for anything other than Ola business - if he does, the Ola office immediately locks the phone, and the driver can only have it unlocked on payment of a fine (I keep imagining a nameless, faceless employee grinning malevolently as he locks some poor cabby or auto driver's phone because he tried to do a Google search, but it's probably all computerized now anyway). 

When you push the button on the app requesting a cab, you see a clock on screen. The Ola driver hears a klaxon and sees a message asking him whether or not he wants to pick up a certain fare. The driver's mission (should he choose to accept it) is to call the pick-upee and figure out where exactly they need to be picked up from and then deliver them to their destination. 

The Ola driver does not know whether you will pay in cash or via Ola money until the destination is reached. If you do pay via Ola money, the phone will display a fare of ₹0. Otherwise, the driver will know not to allow the customer to exit the car and escape at a rate of m.p.h until the amount has been payed in full.

Despite their numerous complaints about the stench of alcohol coming off nearly every customer they pick up after about 6 p.m on Saturdays and the long distances they have to drive, the Ola drivers have it pretty good. For every ₹20 you pay, the company pays ₹30. Ola pays more than it's drivers earn by taking from the venture capitalists and giving to the drivers - rather like a corporate Robin Hood. The best Ola drivers make up to ₹90,000 or so per month, which is, I think, not bad at all.

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