Friday, July 28, 2006

Cool Pool

A new SMS-based carpool service may reduce Mumbai’s traffic woes
- Rashmi Bansal

(this piece appeared in Businessworld, issue dt July 31, 2006)

AFTER the recent hike in petrol prices, Hema Deora, wife of petroleum minister Murli Deora, advocated: "People driving long distances should try carpooling." Coming from a person who doesn’t use them herself, this sounds a little like Marie Antoinette on the virtues of cake. Carpools are good for your city — but best used by someone else.

But seriously, traffic snarls and rising fuel costs have made the average car owner open to the idea of a shared ride. The trouble is finding someone to share the ride with. Someone whose schedule matches yours and will not intrude into your space. To enable this, motoring portal recently launched free carpool classifieds. However, there’s more to carpooling than just matching schedules. Here’s why.

Normally, people opt out of public transport because they want a vehicle at their beck and call. Hooking up with a daily carpool partner means adjustment, and that’s something auto fiends resent. So, is there a practical solution to the too-many-cars-on-the-road problem? The Mumbai Environmental Social Network (MESN) believes there is.

MESN is a public policy think tank committed to enable Mumbai’s efforts at a better environment. But it is doing more than just thinking. MESN will launch Koolpool, India’s first SMS-based carpooling system, in the next two months. Says Rishi Aggarwal, COO, MESN: “There will be two kinds of users: ride givers, who take their cars on the network and ride seekers, who prefer to leave their cars behind.”

An SMS- as well as web-based interface would allow Ride Givers and Ride Seekers to hook up with each other on a dynamic basis — each day you could get a ride with a different person in a different car! “There are pre-defined routes created by Koolpool and by the members, each with a unique route number and pool stops,” explains Aggarwal.

The economics of it works through a prepaid account. Ride givers earn 25 fuel points for every person picked up. These can be redeemed in multiples of 500 for fuel at HPCL petrol pumps. The prepaid account of the ride seeker gets debited when a member confirms via SMS that he or she has joined a pool.

Currently, Koolpool is building its member base. “Everybody is enthusiastic about it. But it takes time to convert enthusiasm to actual membership,” says Aggarwal. MESN is focusing on 40 corporates in Mumbai city. So far, Philips, JP Morgan, Lintas, Castrol and HLL have shown interest.

The locality that has shown most interest is Andheri (East), which faces some of the worst traffic problems in Mumbai. Focusing on corporates also reduces the problem of ‘who am I sharing my ride with’, which could be a concern if the system were open to everybody from day one. Photo ID cards will be issued as well.

There are successful working models abroad, such as (with 600,000 registered members across Europe), US-based and But none of them seem to be as flexible as Koolpool, which even allows ride seekers to share a taxi or an auto.

“Koolpool has been developed indigenously,” says Ashok Datar, chairman, MESN. The idea was conceived by Joshua D’Souza, chief executive, MESN, who met his wife through an SMS-based dating service. A similar system for a carpool service may work, he thought. But the idea, conceived in 2003, took close to three years to bear fruit. “indiatimes was sold to the idea and enabled the backend,” says Datar. Thus, without spending any money, Joshua had the system ready by 2005. In MESN, he found a platform to turn the prototype into reality.

Koolpool estimates that if 6,500 vehicles pick one member for an average 15 km a day on two trips for 22 days a month for a year, it would reduce 51.48 million km of travel per annum. But they’re not going to sell you carpooling as a way to ‘save the world’. They want to make it work for you.


  1. for christ sake hope it works .. coz being a bangalorean (even though u might say blore traffic issue is different ) i knw the traffic just kills ..

  2. I hope that it shall not be declared a risk immediately by the authorities, incase some incident occurs like the pune-bombay ride by a few infosys employees which turned gruesome

  3. I sincerely hope it works, but the way the the points system is structured is important. If it is just having a look into the car and checking if there is one more person, then you might start finding a set of people who might wait near the petrol pumps and those ride givers might get these guys into the car before entering the pump to get those extra points.
    The other issue could be with security. How will koolpool ensure that all the people who want to take a ride are genuine. Is there some verification mechanism?

  4. Wow...That is a wonderful idea. I am sure this will encourage normal users to enjoy a ride as well as reach their destinations in a better way....

  5. guess what - some corporate companies have already been running this idea - for instance @Infosys

    however - not many takers but yes, in a city like Mumbai - even a decent amount of people opting for such an idea will be lil relief.

  6. Rashmi,
    Have you seen Omakara?
    If you please write review.

  7. Bangalore has a group with 300+ members running for last 6 years:

    but it also requires some good boost!

  8. Whats better is like you got time lease on cars like in sydney, you get the car for an hourly rate n leave it at one of the parking places.

    Ofcourse there is a strict check on your driving skills and credentials b4 u get ur hands on one of the cars

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Hi Rashmi,

    On a humorous note,did you watch the movie 'Road' ?--If the people get such 'Ride seekers' like Manoj vajpayee's character in the movie,imagine how enjoyable and cost effective would their ride be !!

    Coming to the point,yes,the 'kool pool' scheme should help,but what should help more,on cutting down the traffic and cost,is the government encouraging the people to live closer to their workplaces and formulating policies to promote the same.

    Also ,watched 'Omkara'.Have put down the review for the movie at

  11. I guess the biggest question in an interesting system like this will be how well the ride seeker & ride giver are able to co-ordinate..

    Of wat can be understood from the way the system works the only way the ride seeker & giver can communicate is thru 8888 but if inditimes is not prompt enuf with tht and if the system suffers due to n/w congestion the idea will collapse.

  12. going through the koolpool site. The system seems complex to mee, especially if there is any way you plan to travel on different routes then very complex else may be ok.

    But i think the bigger problem is giving the ride. if i am going by my car and send my route info to 8888. imagine i get some 10 SMS that there are people standing on all these places and you can pick them up. now either i pick them, which to anybody would become very confusing, irritating, if the person is missing at the expected spot. and if i dont pick him then the person waiting their would go crazy. ride takers i am sure would be too many, this is more like an organized way of asking for the lift. But then whi wants to give lift and too more than one person on the way and then dropping each one at adiffernt place, and happily sending and SMS, here i am please tell me who wants lift?
    so the chances of ride giver saving time is difficult unless the whole system is successful and the total traffic reduces and then you have space to move fast on the road.

    Great for the environment, but how many would do that for the environments sake.

  13. Let me join the bandwagon of carpool/rideshare websites creators...

    I just designed this rideshare/carpool site for India and USA. Trying to get the word out desperately to people...Hopefully this blog can do the trick for me.

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