The bright and shiny ‘rajinikanth on three wheels’ radio tuk tuk will go where no radio cab is willing (even if it is just a 2km distance)
Sulabh Mehra dabbled in a lot of things—he enrolled in a hotel and restaurant management course, then took up a job in information technology before deciding to go the entrepreneurial way.
Somewhere close to end-2009, Mehra and his friends were discussing the problems of city life. The one thing he thought they could improve was public transport, specifically public transport in Gurgaon. There was nothing for distances of 2, 5, 7km. “There are radio cabs but the unofficial rule with radio cabs is that they don’t do short distances,” says the 26-year-old.
Service on three wheels: Sulabh Mehra’s Radio Tuk Tuk attempts to make life easier for Gurgaon’s travellers. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Once the idea of Tuk Tuks struck him, the planning was swift and meticulous. Mehra would devote weekends to research—from conversations with autorickshaw drivers (to find out about the “ground reality”) to his chartered accountant and banks for funding. On weekdays, it was back to his IT job. “I made a business plan on paper and needed something in the range of Rs 1.5 crore, and approached banks for funding,” he says. He launched the service in April 2010; today, they run 50 Tuk Tuks.
Since the plan was to have a sophisticated system in place, expenses went beyond procuring vehicles and buying software that communicates with drivers. There were more expenses for safety measures. These included a global positioning system (GPS) to track vehicles and ensure passenger safety, and panic buttons in the vehicles to allow passengers to inform the centre if something was wrong—when you press these, a warning pops up on the screen in their control room.
There was also an attempt to give the vehicles a distinctive look with bright and jazzy curtains, and colourful grills. “It should stand out a little. That’s our idea of ensuring brand recognition,” he says.
Mehra had to price the service higher than regular autorickshaws, so the minimum fare is Rs 50 for the first 3km and Rs 8 for every subsequent one. “Less than that would not be commercially viable for me,” he says. He also realized that the after-sales service of the company which supplied the vehicles was terrible (“On a scale of 1-10, I would rate them 1”)—he needed mechanics who could repair the vehicles in-house.
“All of these added expenses also mean that I’ve had to push back my break-even target of 3.5 years to 4.5 years,” says Mehra.
He says he hasn’t made any profit so far: “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll probably slash our rates. But frankly, I don’t see this not working,” he says.
“It’s a common man’s radio cab,” says Mehra.