News Makers 2017

Ride along

How Sixit Bhatta and his team at the ride sharing app Tootle is changing the way Kathmandu commutes

- ALISHA SIJAPATI, Kathmandu

Less than a year ago, when somebody without a vehicle wanted to commute in the Valley, they had one of three options: either hire a taxi that left a big hole in their pockets, suffer through the congestion of public vehicles or, even worse, walk through the dust and smog.  But since the launch of Tootle, a ride sharing service, things have changed for the better. 

Tootle was one of the top 10 contestants at Slush GIA 2017, a conference held in Helsinki, Finland to encourage promising start ups. Today, Tootle has become the economic bloodline to some 5000 people in Kathmandu, and benefits up to 50,000 users daily who are looking to save time as they commute in the Valley.

Tootle is derived from services such as Uber and Lyft that have become popular means of transport in most western nations, and even in places like India, whereby somebody owing a car can use the app to find customers looking for a ride.  “Instead of cars, as is the practice of most shared riding apps, we have contexualised the concept by making use of motorcycles,” said Sixit Bhatta, the co-founder and CEO of  Tootle, “In the west,  people use their credit cards to pay for the service, which was not  entirely feasible in Nepal.  So we had to come up with a different technique, add local elements and develop the project in such a way that it became a win-win situation for all,” he added.

According to Bhatta, Tootle is based on the concept of freelance economy, where the rider providing the ride can work in accordance to their own time.  This idea is embedded in the company name for Tootle as the word means travelling in a leisurely fashion.

Umesh Karki, one of the rider partners of Tootle, said that the Tootle has “saved his life” because his family circumstances did not allow him to continue working in the regimented work schedule of his previous employer. “Not only has Tootle been a life-line, but I have also seen many new places in the Valley, which I would not have otherwise visited.”

Around 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning, Karki picked up 17-year old Sashank Ghimire from Anamnagar to be dropped off at Jawalakhel.  Ghimire was on his way to his weekly football practice, and before he started using Tootle he would leave almost an hour and a half early. “There were many occasions when I would be late,” Ghimire shared, “The app allows me to track the person when he  or she is coming to pick me up, and since I started using the app I am able to save a lot of time––my friends are no longer mad at me as I am always on time.”

Like Karki and Ghimire, most users of Tootle, whether they are ride partners or commuters using the service, report that they are very satisfied with the company. “But it is not easy work. I am constantly anxious because the company is getting bigger by the day,” said the once-telecom engineer turned CEO who launched the app in March 2017, “My 12 year experience of working in different capacities has helped me operate the company. We have also expanded the service to places outside the Capital, and that adds more to my plate.”

Bhatta said that building an impeccable, user-friendly app that gave a warm, hospitable feeling was the first step to setting up the business.  But the ride sharing app was a unique concept, one that Nepalis were sceptical about. “In order to attract customers we initially gave 200 rupees as a starting balance, but now that we have reached a stable user group, the initial balance that a commuter can use has been reduced to 60 rupees.”

Since launching the service, the company has received an overwhelming positive feedback from the users.  Bhatta said that the popularity of the service has also been in part because of the fact that 40 percent of the users are women. “Women feel comfortable commuting in a motorcycle driven by women. Also a sizable chunk of our commuters are visually-impaired who have been able to use the service to get to distant places for work and other opportunities. Consider a mother who needs to give time to her children. Previously, when she worked, she would spend at least two hours commuting,” Bhatta said, “Now she will spend only half an hour commuting in the city. Groups such as women and the differently-abled now have a way of finding work in places far away from their residence as they can use Tootle as safe and convenient mode of transportation.” 

Bhatta also takes pride in the fact that his company has helped in retaining some youths, who would have otherwise migrated to the Middle East for employment opportunities.   One customer from Pokhara said that his paperwork for going to Qatar was being processed when he heard about Tootle.  “Since I started using Tootle, I have been making enough income to abandon the idea of moving abroad entirely.”

Anyone with a motorcycle can register to become a Tootle ride giver, but Bhatta emphasised that there is a rigorous screening of the rider to ensure the safety of the passengers.  “We scrutinise every rider to make sure that the rider is a careful driver who can safely navigate the passenger through the chaotic traffic of the city he or she is driving in,” Bhatta said.

The accumulation of 50,000 regular users in mere 10 months is indicative of the high standard employed by Bhatta and his team. “We are not stopping here, however. This is only the beginning,” Bhatta said, “As a start up, we have to keep learning and searching to make our service better––we have made an impact in the transport business, but this is only a start.”

Published: 2017-12-31 13:34:06