Auto drivers turn richer with mobiles

DQW Bureau
New Update


Rare is the technology that touches our life as much as the advent of

cellular has. Ever since its introduction, the mobile phone has grown to become

one of the most popular forms of personal communication tools in India.

Though initially restricted to urban elites, falling prices and newer

services have ensured that the mobile is well on its way to becoming part of the

common man’s life, including auto rickshaw drivers–the community which is

swiftly becoming ‘fully mobile’.

However, one wonders whether the cell phone means the same to him as that to

a young professional or is his relationship with the mobile different? Is he

satisfied with the version available to him or does he want more?


According to the Bangalore based research firm, Center for Knowledge

Societies (CKS), that tried to answer these questions, mobile phones have helped

auto rickshaw drivers develop stronger bond with customers.

While earlier auto drivers used take specific routes to cover large part of

the city, cell phones have made it easy for regular customers to call them up,

thereby helping them to cut down on unnecessary roaming across the city in

search of business. Assurance of calls from specific customers has helped them

chart out the route in such a way that that they can be in areas closer to them.

The study also reveals that in most of the cases, though the driver buys the

phone to keep in touch with his family, it later becomes a tool of income

generation by facilitating repeat business.


"They even like the idea of a bill that shows itself every time they use

the phone, especially when they lend their phones to customers," explained

a CKS operation member Zeenat Hasan.

CKS has also made a four-minute documentary based on its interaction with 200

auto drivers in Bangalore. The film is aimed at helping technology designers in

developing targeted technology products. According to Hasan, the initiative is

an attempt by the organization to understand the dynamics between societies and

technology and thereby help in designing better technology.

"We believe that design is inseparable from other disciplines and as

much a part of the research process as it is of a product," she said.


The research on auto drivers was triggered by the information that auto

drivers in Trivandrum were increasing their accessibility by painting their

phone numbers on their vehicles.

"We recorded three important findings — change in the daily route, the

phone becoming an income source from just an expense and an eventual shift in

service providers from Reliance to Airtel," she said. That Reliance has

single handedly been responsible for making the common man mobile can be judged

by the fact that 70 percent of the respondents said they started off as Reliance


While the survey reveals that 15 percent of these customers started off as

Airtel prepaid subscribers, around 10 percent people who start on Reliance

change to Airtel. "The 80 percent Reliance subscribers, therefore, belong

to the category of people who have been using mobiles for less than a month. The

shift in service providers happens usually in one or two months," Hasan

informed adding that 20 percent of the respondents have said that mobile phone

helped them in getting repeat business.


"A number of products and services can be developed keeping in mind

their needs and desires. For example, we found that these drivers call up their

friends to pass on messages to their family. That provides the idea of a double

pack–one for him and one for his house," Hasan reiterated. The team also

suggests more multilingual services and better local language interfaces for

these drivers along with simpler and cheaper phones.

"These suggestions can be replicated for different non-elite

communities. Careful planning and production of useful technology would

certainly increase its adoption," she said adding that CKS is planning a

similar research among shared autos in Agra.

They are also working on a project to understand how GIS mapping could be

useful to a man on the streets.


While some might feel that mobiles are the great levelers of our time,

research like this shows that it might not be the case. No doubt mobile phones

have become more accessible now, but the telecom industry is still far away from

coming out with service packs to meet specific needs of people from different

strata. Though many companies are beginning to look at the non-elite segment,

the understanding that one model cannot fit all segments is still largely


In fact, none of the service providers have yet been able to fully exploit

the potential of the technology to create products and services for the common

man. Whether research such as this can help in realizing the common man’s

dream is a question that would be judged in times to come.

Sathya Mithra Ashok

(CyberMedia News Service)