In its smartphone debut, Meru Cabs is targeting a more diverse group of users than just taxi customers: it’s hoping to save people caught in a dangerous situation — a necessary feature in a country where victims are often ignored by the authorities and passers-by.
The new iOS and Android apps, soft-launched earlier this week, feature an In Case of Emergency (ICE) button which messages your location and a distress signal to one or two pre-nominated friends. They will also be notified via an emergency buzzer if they have the Meru app installed. Once you press the button, which sits prominently in the banner, you have ten seconds to cancel the request.
Public security and safety, especially for women, is a serious problem in India. The callous nature of the Indian authorities and some citizens was exposed last December when the victims of a gang rape in Delhi were left, bleeding on the side of a highway while neither passers-by nor police officials rushed to help.
In fact, the genesis of the ICE button was a SMS service the fleet operator launched on International Women’s Day last year, according to CTO Nilesh Sangoi. He said after passengers registered the mobile numbers of their friends, they would be notified of their whereabouts at two points in the journey, fifteen minutes in and once they reached their destination.
They extended this popular functionality in the app.
“We have about two million active consumers, but it makes sense to give them something that’s valuable day-in, day-out, not just when they’re catching a cab,” Sangoi said. “By providing security, it has a better chance of becoming a utility app.”
The feature is a unique point of differentiation in the increasingly crowded mobile and online taxi bookings marketplace — including Ola Cabs, which last year reportedly raised over $6 million from Tiger Global, BookMyCab, Sharedcab.com, TaxiForSure.com, and Cubito — which aim to solve the common problem of taxis turning up on time, and as promised.
Meru processes about 20,000 bookings a day, 40 percent via mobile/online and 60 percent via the call centre, and unlike other operators it owns all the 5,500 taxis in its fleet. Sangoi is hoping the new apps will boost the number of bookings and driver satisfaction.
The company will use the influx of data to further optimise its taxi delivery supply chain, powered by an Oracle ERP and Siebel CRM system. It has already developed an algorithm which has helped secure 500 additional bookings a day; is if a customer tries to book when no cabs are available, instead of rejecting the order, the system will schedule a cab that is dropping off another customer nearby.
“We have a reliability rate of 99.7 percent, and we are constantly working to improve this,” he said.