As fuel prices scale new heights, daily commutes are beginning to bite into monthly budgets. One option is public transport. But the crowds can be daunting and the last mile connectivity is still a nightmare. In an attempt to offer a solution, entrepreneurs and friends Arunprasad Durairaj, a Dartmouth schooled and Vijay Babu Gandhi a former tech expert from July Systems have set up Zinghopper.com. The site gives visitors the opportunity to leverage their social and professional network to share a safe ride to work or home.
The idea is quite similar to the usual carpooling where a bunch of people from the same workplace or the same area of residence travel together effectively cutting down commute costs. But concerns of safety and differing time slots have come in the way of car pooling taking off. Says Arunprasad: “Public transportation is inconvenient and inconsistent and car ownership isn’t democratized yet as in developed nations.” His solution is enabling “access” to cars through affordable cars or affordable rental cars. However, ridesharing/ carpooling goes a step further to solve the problem by providing “access” to cars without the necessity to “own” cars. Ridesharing also enables car owners to maximize the utility of their investments by sharing it with people who need it.
There are already a number of sites in India that charge a monthly fee from people wanting to car pool and these have managed to aggregate users online but the sites are mostly difficult to navigate while the follow up seems somewhat unreliable. One reason is that potential users have no idea about who their companions are.
The Zinghopper team aims to remove this user anonymity to make it more reliable. Using the paradigm of social networking, the site requires registration through a valid Facebook account and a corporate email id, which also serves as a form of verification. Arunprasad explains, “This enables users to know your work profile and view your friends. Often you can spot mutual friends, which also provides a base for security and familiarity.” Once registered, a user’s travel history is also visible to other members.
Zinghopper uses a tool that effectively calculates distance and petrol price to suggest a fair value for commuters. Considering the reluctance to use online payment systems in India and the cultural sensibility in dealing with cash, the payments are presently upfront to build trust and keep users coming back in the starting stage.
Realizing that corporates have the most painful commute schedule, Zinghopper is starting with the launch of its corporate version and extending solutions to some of the top companies in Bangalore, Noida and Gurgaon region. “These companies believe that commute is a major pain point for their employees,” says Arunprasad. One of the companies that is a potential client has recently stopped providing shuttle services to its 5000+ employees in Delhi area and was looking for an alternative solution.
Zinghopper’s beta site went live on May 31. Initial response has been tepid with just 400 people having signed up. But the founders are not deterred. Having analysed that the existing number of carpool users in India is alarmingly small, the company sees huge untapped demand.