Uber has introduced its carpooling program, Uber Pool, in India in its latest move to grow its presence in the world’s second most populous country.
The service is initially being piloted in Bengaluru, which becomes the sixth city worldwide for the Uber Pool service but the first in India. The move is indicative of Uber’s aspirations for its role in the India, a market where it claims to be experiencing 40 percent month-on-month growth.
It looks like the company just beat rival Ola, the SoftBank-backed domestic ride-sharing firm which is currently raising $500 million, to the punch. TechCrunch understands from sources that Ola’s own carpooling service —
Ola Pool update: the service will be called Ola Share — will launch next week. While Uber Pool is starting out in one city, Ola Pool will be in an initial five cities, allowing customers there to split fares and share cabs.
Although it’s clear Uber hopes the introduction of the service in India will significantly increase its rider capacity, a spokesperson also said that Uber believes adoption of carpooling services in the country could dramatically reduce traffic congestion. The carpooling service allows commuters with collinear start and end points to share a vehicle, thus reducing the cost of their ride.
“With Uber Pool we’ll aim to achieve this vision, one we share with policy makers, to make Bangalore a city of the future — one that looks a whole lot greener, cleaner, and more efficient thanks to fewer cars and more shared rides,” Uber Bengaluru’s general manager Bhavik Rathod said in a statement.
Informal carpooling services are widespread in India at prices incredibly low by Uber’s normal standards. Undercutting the rock-bottom prices that consumers already encounter for carpools in India may be the biggest challenge Uber will face with the introduction of Uber Pool.
The induction of the service into Bengaluru was facilitated in part by a recent carpooling initiative by the city’s Traffic Police, explained an Uber spokesperson. The campaign is centered on publicity initiatives to reduce vehicle numbers in congested areas.
“We desire to see around 40,000 vehicles of these off the streets on a daily basis through the carpooling initiative,” said MA Saleem, Additional Commissioner of Police for Traffic, told the Bangalore Mirror earlier this month.
Although the company has not yet released price estimates for rides in Bengaluru, it claims that Uber Pool commuters can reduce ride costs by up to 50 percent. Whether or not even this price cut can face up to the massive informal carpooling market in India is unclear, and with a similar service from Ola on the horizon, Uber’s advantage is perhaps minimal. It’s also worth noting that domestic competitor Meru Cabs already launched a similar feature at the beginning of the month, in a move that increasingly makes it look like Uber is following its competitors’ lead in India’s massive transportation market.
The move also comes after Uber suffered a setback in India’s capital region, Delhi, where its application to run taxis in the area was rejected by the region’s government. While no similar move has been made in Bengaluru, the company’s decision to go ahead with a major launch a week later is indicative of Uber’s historical indifference to government opinions.
While Uber is predicting an increasingly rosy future in India, recent moves by the company show it has quite the challenge. The company is devoting a huge slice of resources to India where it has a tough battle against both rivals and the culture of the local market.