Friday, June 12, 2009

Pick up point timepass

As I waited for my bus at Vashi, it was fascinating to see the "informal economy" for pickups to Pune. Theres a three way market there. First there are the ticketed passengers for buses - both private and MSRTCs own service. Then there are the "travel agents" who sell "spot" tickets for the buses to Pune. Then there are the touts who cater to the guys who "walk in", needing to reach Pune "fast" by cab and not bus.

Mumbai-Pune is a high density route and all the MSRTC plus private buses and taxis of all sorts can not satiate the demand. It is like the perfect free market (or thereabouts). In this economy is the unorganized cab; the driver who wants to make a quick buck while going to Pune anyway and indeed there are youngsters who seem to make some money while on their way to Pune. Now, if you decide to stop at the bus stop and try to pick up passengers, sure you will get them, but if you want your vehicle to go full, you have to use the services of "agents" there.

Disclaimer: I was a pure onlooker, so what follows is mostly surmise.

The rates appear fixed. There are some rules. Airconditioned vehicle 250 bucks ( must be negotiable, I think), non aircon vehicles 150 (ditto). Two seats in the front in the Sumo and I actually heard them tell someone to pay for 2 if he wanted a solo seat up front. There are schedules. The next vehicle is slotted in a place and until it is full nobody breaks the queue - all the other vehicles are neatly parked behind. All in all, the touts sort of serve to organize a market which otherwise would perhaps be a nice riotous scene with each cab waiting for the last seat to get full or missing out on a couple of seats. It looks like each cab has to pay about 100 bucks for their "services" and it does look like most chaps find it worth paying these guys for their services. They do all the running around, catching potential passengers and getting them into the vehicle. In fact, I did not see anyone attempt to pick up passengers without their services (they would probably do it at other smaller stops on the way - and that has its own "cost").

But that's the rules. The way they go about it is a perfect lesson for anyone operating in an imperfect market. Here, clearly, though the supplier and buyer are in equal hurry, the advantage is with the touts. They announce the latest cabs, even 'fill' cabs with their own folk - who gracefully make way when the 'real' customer arrives. They coax, cajole and even occasionally make a "last vehicle" (at 5 pm) announcement even as other cabs come in. Passengers obviously don't want to get into a cab and wait till all the seats are full (this, IMO, the most painful part for a passenger) - thus everybody plays a waiting game. But then, the first guys get the best (middle) seats and the rest are bundled into the back. The touts handle all of this. They can size potential passengers at a wink - including their urgency levels. Comes with experience I guess.

All in all, it was interesting to watch them go about their business...


Kavi said...

Its equally interesting to see 'impromptu' taxis that operate from Mumbai to Pune !

And these sometimes can be chauffeur driven cars from Pune that dropped off their owners at the Mumbai airport and going back 'empty' !!

A colleague got a ride back in a Toyota Camry some days back. Ofcourse, there was a charge for it !

And there was an organised network that got him the car.

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