India’s Ola Announces Carpooling Service That Matches Customers Within Social Groups

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Sharing taxi rides is about to go mainstream in India. Less than a month after Uber brought its carpooling service to India, local rival Ola has announced a pooling service of its own.

Ola Share, which we first reported on last month, is much like UberPool in that it allows customers to share their journey with others in order to save money on their fare. There is a twist, however. While UberPool rides will seat users with randomly selected fellow pasengers, Ola is offering an option that it will match customers with people from their own defined social circles. That might mean someone you know, but it could also be a friend of a friend, someone from your workplace or a fellow college alumni. (Those who want to share rides with strangers can also do that.)

The service has been in pilot for a month, and is available across Bangalore as of today. The company — which is present in more than 100 cities in India and claims to have more than 250,000 cabs on its platform — said it is aiming to expand the initiative to a further five cities over the next three months.

It’s an intriguing idea — anecdotally, I know the uncertainty of being matched with a stranger impacts some people across Asia’s interest in peer-to-peer rides, let alone ride-pooling — but initially the system of building out friend groups seems like a fairly cumbersome one.

An Ola representative explained to TechCrunch that customers build their own social groups inside the app by providing email contacts for friends, family, colleagues, etc. Once the other party has approved the request to add, they are then included to your social group, meaning that you could share a ride if your paths and journeys cross.

Integration with social networks, such as Facebook, would be an obvious way to make things more seamless. That process is hugely important because it is the crux of the offering, and if users can’t find their friends, or add them easily, then the whole process falls down. For now, Ola isn’t commenting on whether that is within its plans. Instead, it is focusing on the social angle — which is it is pitting as an advantage over other, competing services. (Yes, that means Uber.)

“We think it’s a step forward to create a comfort level when sharing a ride,” Anand Subramanian, head of corporate communications at Ola told TechCrunch. “We think that it will push people to use this with far greater comfort and a sense of privacy.”

The company isn’t revealing what portion of rides that it expects Ola Share will account for, but Subramanian said that it could increase supply by “multiples.”

“A maximum of three people can share a cab together via Ola Share. Driver-partners get an option to log into the Share platform, getting instant access to increased revenue of up to 50 percent, through continuous fulfilment of booking,” Ola explained in an announcement.

“At Ola, our goal is to build mobility for a billion Indians and this requires us to innovate constantly, for the future,” Ishan Gupta, head of Ola Share, said in a statement. “This will also contribute towards significant reduction of traffic, congestion and pollution in our cities.”

Ola recently raised $400 million from a range of investors that include SoftBank and Chinese ride-sharing service Didi Kuaidi. Uber, its main rival, is currently in 18 cities across India, but it has plans to increase its footprint massively after pledging to invest $1 billion in its business in the country.

While Didi Kuaidi and Lyft, who of Ola’s partners, both have carpooling services, Ola confirmed to TechCrunch that Ola Share was built by the Indian company from the ground up. Perhaps ‘The Anti-Uber League’ will share operational tips on how to make pooling work, particularly in emerging markets.