There are plenty of options for pedestrians looking to get around the Kathmandu Valley. The bus system is cheap at around 15 rupees, but the routes are complicated and crowded. A taxi is the easiest, but prices range from 300-1000 rupees depending on the destination. For the able-bodied and athletic, walking is free and great exercise, but it’s only convenient if your location is close or you have time to spare.
A new ride-sharing app launched in January 2017 named Tootle is eliminating the need to choose between cost and convenience. For cheaper than a taxi and quicker than a bus, Tootle riders can get picked up directly at their location and ride on the back of one of the fastest forms of transportation Kathmandu offers: a motorbike.
“The purpose [of Tootle] is to provide people freedom to move,” Chief Marketing Officer Princi Koirala said. “People really struggle around here in terms of moving around. Public transportation is quite broken and taxi service isn’t really transparent.”
What began as an app mostly used by college students has grown to over 60,000 users, 7,000-8,000 drivers and 1,800 rides every day. Rides are available to anybody within Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. After researching location-based services and finding a carpool service, Koirala said that the idea for Tootle started to form.
“We conducted a beta-testing with college students, we made a proto-type and then we went around to colleges,” Koirala said. “The enthusiasm was really high. That’s how we thought we could actually launch it in the market and that’s how we started. This is a famous concept outside, but in Nepal it’s very new for people.”
Koirala explained that the company chose motorbikes rather than cars because of unsafe road conditions and the relative scarcity of cars. It is also a faster form of transportation as motorbikes are capable of weaving in and out of traffic jams.
A major selling point for Tootle is their low cost and according to Koirala, that is by design.
“We want to position our pricing to win convenience over public vehicles, while being cheaper than the taxi services,” Koirala said.
On July 9, Tootle introduced a demand-based pricing model. This makes ride prices slightly more expensive during busy hours to incentivize more drivers to be on the road when people need it. Don’t worry though; prices are still lower than the taxi service, even during periods of high demand.
Due to the 80/20 split between drivers and Tootle, the increase in ride rates will also help Tootle bring in more revenue to meet their lofty goals. Koirala said that the company hopes to expand to Pokhara for beta-testing later this year in December. They are also trying to develop a proto-type delivery service for companies to expand beyond just commuters.
When it comes to safety, Tootle has a few safeguards in-place. Due to incidents of sexual harassment and assault in Kathmandu, female riders can choose a female driver for added peace of mind. For male riders, there is no option to choose a female driver to provide those drivers with the same protection.
If a Tootle driver gets in an accident, a team is sent to investigate whether the driver’s speed was a factor. They also train drivers ahead of time to avoid such scenarios. In the future, Koirala said that Tootle hopes to provide rider insurance for complete assurance that if there is an accident, the company will cover any injuries. For now, they assess fault on a case-by-case basis.
Niti Shahi, a 19-year-old college student living in Kathmandu, said that Tootle is so convenient, she recommends it to all of her friends.
“I think it’s very convenient because 1.) it’s cheaper and 2.) Kathmandu is kind of narrow.” Shahi said. “With scooters and bikes you can go anywhere.”
Shahi also believes that it is advantageous for drivers because if they are already travelling across town, they can just find a rider headed in that direction. That helps them get to where they are going, while also making a little money along the way.
When asked about her concerns with Tootle, Shahi pointed to a recent phenomenon: price increases.
“Once they start increasing prices, people will start using them less,” Shahi said.
Ratna Kumar, a 31-year-old who has been a part-time Tootle driver for 3-5 months, is happy with his experience so far.
“It’s a free job, you don’t have to be under anyone,” Kumar said. “If you want to do, you do. If you don’t want to do, you don’t do. That’s why I’m doing it.”
Ongshu Subba is a 24-year-old who has been driving Tootle for only a week. He said his friends told him about it, so he wanted to give it a try.
“I’m just using my leisure time,” Subba said.
In my experience as a visitor in Nepal, Tootle was a great balance between convenience and cost. It allowed me to get exactly where I needed, while also learning more about the local culture from my conversations with drivers. As long as the prices remain low compared to taxi services, this is an app that is likely to revolutionize how people get around the Kathmandu Valley.