Uber Indian Subcontinent Regional General Manager Bavik Rathod and Uber Senior Launcher Varun Mundkur
By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Popular ridesharing app Uber held its official launch in Colombo this week, after it had witnessed strong demand in the country.
Cricketers Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena went on the first Uber ride in October.
“We tracked the number of eyeballs in Colombo. That is the number of people who opened out app here. A lot of Sri Lankans have used Uber before when they had travelled to other countries like Singapore, UK and India, and when they come back to Sri Lanka, they are curious if Uber is here,” Uber Indian Subcontinent Regional General Manager Bavik Rathod said.
He said that tourists who come to Sri Lanka also open the app.
“When they get down at the airport, they open the app, and if the Uber service is there, they get a familiar fuzzy feeling,” Uber Senior Launcher Varun Mundkur added.
Uber is the world’s largest taxi company, but owns no vehicles, operating through a rideshare function, where individuals who own a vehicle and are able to provide the service can register with the company. Uber connects the drivers with the users who demand a cab ride.
Despite saying that demand has been strong, both Rathod and Mundkur refused to divulge the number of drivers registered in Sri Lanka.
“It doesn’t matter whether there are 500 drivers or 5,000 drivers, as long as we can give our users that 5 minute experience,” Rathod added.
The company is promising that an Uber cab will arrive to pick up a customer within 5 minutes of pressing the request button. However, pickups and drops are only available within the Colombo City, selected suburbs, and a stretch extending to the Katunayake airport.
Uber expects strong growth, driven through 1 million credit cards, 11 million debit cards and a 20 percent smart phone penetration in Sri Lanka. The service has no cash transactions, and friends and family travelling together can split the fare between them, eliminating any freeloaders.
The service starts with a Rs.100 base fare, with a Rs.50 fare per kilometre and Rs.2 per minute during waiting times. Toll booths will be automatically detected, and the card will be charged.
Rathod said that Uber’s main features are safety, reliability and quality which are provided at a cheaper rate than most taxi services in Colombo.
“We have multiple layers of screening for our drivers. They need to have the relevant documents like a National ID and a Drivers’ License. They need to have insurance for the driver and 4 passengers, and we’re also open to talks with the government for other methods of screening,” he said.
He noted that when requesting an Uber cab, the photo, name and the phone number of the driver, as well as the license plate number of the vehicle will appear, in addition to the location of the cab on a map.
During the ride, passengers can send their ride details such as GPS locations and estimated times of arrival to friends or family, which also adds a further security layer. Both drivers and riders can be rated, with consistent bad ratings resulting in them not being allowed to use Uber.
Rathod said that Uber sparks entrepreneurship, with even individuals who have 9-5 desk jobs being able to earn extra cash during their drive to and from work.
He added that Uber has no revenue targets for Colombo yet, and that it is not possible to estimate when the service will be extended to other cities in Sri Lanka.
The vehicle types available in Sri Lanka will be Toyota Allion, Toyota Prius, Toyota Axio, Nissan Bluebird, Honda City and Mitsubishi Lancer.
Uber is present in 367 cities in 67 countries, with a rapid and controversial growth since its founding in 2009.