By on December 10, 2015

baxi

Arunabh Madhur gave up a 15-year career in brand, media and digital content marketing to set up M-Taxi, the second company that has launched bike taxis in Gurgaon. “You’re our first lady customer and I will take you for this ride myself,” says Madhur, a biker himself and an enthusiastic member of a Gurgaon super bike club.

What’s faster, cheaper, and more panic-attack-inducing than a taxi, an Uber ride, or even a rickshaw? The answer is clearly a motorcycle taxi. It’s now a thing. And there are now multiple startups competing for your motorcycle-taxi business in a place where, more now than ever, the future is being built.

The city of Gurgaon, in India, is home to nearly one million people and, according to city officials, has some sort of pied-a-terre presence for about half of the Fortune 500. It’s been an auto manufacturing hub in the past and it boasts the third-highest average income of the entire country. And it’s here that the motorcycle taxi industry is being birthed.

It’s remarkably cheap — fifteen cents for the first mile and and a dime a mile afterwards — plus you’ll be given a disposable headsock for the provided helmet and a fresh wipe when you arrive. (A personal aside: Having worked with hundreds of different Southeast Asians over the past decade, I can confirm that this is, like, important to them and a major selling point. “Fresh wipes” can be found all over the place in offices that employ a significant number of Indians.)

The riders expect to earn as much as $300 per month, which would be double the average wage in the country.

Bike-Taxi-Baxi-Service-2

Unlike the all-American startups Uber and Lyft, who (in your humble author’s opinion) rely on their drivers to both provide the hardware and turn a blind eye to the math of vehicle depreciation, Baxi and M-Taxi have standardized on some affordable, locally produced motorcycles that are acquired and owned by the companies themselves. The Bajaj CT100 appears to be the ride of choice. It costs about $550 US and twists out 8.2 (don’t forget the point-two) horsepower from a single piston displacing 99 cc.

Your humble author occasionally feels that his 105-horsepower CB1100 is “just enough” for carrying a female passenger, so the idea of tugging someone around with less than a tenth of that is fairly frightening. Yet the Bajaj is a bit of a Hayabusa in a country where the 50 cc scooter, often with two people and some luggage on board, is seen as viable urban transportation. It also has to be said that few Baxi pilots will be above six-feet tall and/or 200 pounds.

With more than a thousand Baxis scheduled to hit the mean streets of Gurgaon within the next six months, there’s clearly some investor interest behind this, and for good reason. Indians just aren’t as freaked out about being on the back of a tiny motorcycle as most Americans would be. The pricing is per mile, rather than per minute, which is important in a crowded urban environment where it can take an hour to cover two miles. And even after you apply the approximate thirty-something multiplication factor to equalize it with the average American income, the rate is still reasonable.

From an urban-planning perspective, as well, Baxi is a good thing. The sporty Bajajes (hope I’m pluralizing that correctly) take up less space than a rickshaw, never mind a Hindustan Ambassador or Toyota Corolla, and they don’t slow the traffic the way human-powered vehicles do. My time in Malaysia a few years ago convinced me that it’s possible to have a major urban traffic jam comprised entirely of scooters, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a traffic benefit when taxi users choose a smaller vehicle. I’d imagine that the much-vaunted training provided to the drivers, which takes up almost as much space in the press interviews as the serious commitment to hygiene espoused by both Baxi and M-Taxi, will help to keep incidents relatively minor.

So what are the American implications? A few, I’d think.

A service that offered motorcycle taxi service in New York for three bucks a mile would certainly get some interest — imagine getting from Hell’s Kitchen to the Village for a fiver. But it’s far riskier operating a motorcycle in Manhattan traffic which can occasionally sprint to 60 mph between lights. You’d also need a bigger, more powerful bike.

In the long term, however, I’m reminded of Neal Stephenson’s prophetic rant in Snow Crash:

When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we’ve brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they’re making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anyone else:
music
movies
microcode (software)
high-speed pizza delivery

It’s hard to imagine that the dollar holiday will last forever. At some point the labor value of Americans will be forcibly equalized to that of their Indian counterparts and here’s a hint: it won’t be done by paying everybody in India enough money to own a four-bedroom home and an F-350 Super Duty. Our children and grandchildren, born into a world of disappearing opportunities, overwhelming competition from automated systems, and a philosophy of government that is trending strongly towards providing a basic income in order to stave off armed revolt, won’t fire up their Corvettes to travel across the city. They’ll take the cheapest transportation available — because in the future you won’t be able to earn $150k/year by sitting in an office and “doing e-mail”.

Which makes the future of motorcycle taxis very exciting indeed. In fact, your humble author is already preparing for such a thing, expecting it to be the career of his twilight years. You can help. Send your wives and girlfriends to Ohio for the weekend and I will motorcycle-taxi them around to their heart’s content. I promise there will be a headsock and a fresh wipe. I’ll take a bath before. And after, if things progress beyond the strictly professional. Best of all, until the economy truly collapses, I can promise you a much faster ride than you’ll get on the back of any Bajaj.

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62 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: Baxi To The Future...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Gives love handles a whole new meaning.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    ” it can take an hour to cover two miles”

    Are the sidewalks gridlocked too?

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      While I love the idea, this is not the best way to sell it. For most people with a physical impairment that prevents them from walking two miles in an hour, I can’t imagine riding two up for that long in herky-jerky traffic is any more comfortable.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      “Are the sidewalks gridlocked too?”

      Clearly, you have never been to India. I regularly spent an hour in the back of a Corolla in New Delhi traffic (at 9PM!) where, each time I looked out the window, the very same motorcycle was right next to me. *Every* possible path is occupied. Think of a crush of a crowd leaving a ball game. There are no pathways not stuffed with people, and everyone is reduced to moving at exactly the same pace.

      On a side note, the most curious thing about New Delhi traffic is that horns are not used to “yell” at other drivers. Instead, with short taps of the horn, it struck me more as the bleating of sheep in a herd. More “here I am!” than “get out of the way!”. This fits perfectly as there really is no concept of lanes on many larger surface roads.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I haven’t been to India, but I had a similar experience in Nairobi. People, cars, motorcycles, and animals were in the road, on the sidewalk, going every which way. It made be wax nostalgic about the relatively orderly traffic jams of America.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          When I watched that Top Gear special where they did wagons through Africa, and they were stuck in the traffic in Uganda all night long, I wondered about organization.

          The traffic would be 50% better if people weren’t driving EVERYWHERE. Paint some damn lines on the road. Organization is so valuable, I don’t get why 3rd world countries can’t understand/enforce it.

    • 0 avatar
      tylanner

      With an average summer daily max temp of 100degF in Gurgaon, a purposeful 2-mile trek will leave you drenched in your own filth.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “Our children and grandchildren, born into a world of disappearing opportunities, overwhelming competition from automated systems, and a philosophy of government that is trending strongly towards providing a basic income in order to stave off armed revolt, won’t fire up their Corvettes to travel across the city.”

    Just don’t have kids, then you won’t feel such guilt about throwing them into a country beginning a fast decline. :)

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Eh, kids are cool. Since I’m white and own property, my daughter will be fine.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I’m greatful I didn’t. Married a woman 21 years younger than me, so I have someone to leave my estate to, but otherwise I’m untroubled about the far future.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Crippling social awkwardness has definitely saved me a lot of money by stopping me from potentially knocking up anyone.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Ohh Vincent. Your Thunderbird helps too? :D

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Heh, yeah, it’s not a VW, WRX, or a brodozer so it’s practically babe repellant.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Now that I think of it – driving my M is people-repellent in general. When I drive the Deville, people are friendly, give me compliments, and offer to help me with things.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The right girl doesn’t care. I was driving an Oldsmobile Achieva when I met my wife. Only grandmas get hot over an Achieva. Even then, they would leave you for a guy with a GM pension and an Olds 88 or 98.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            I love Oldsmobile, but the only good thing I can say about the Achieva is the sedan had skirted fenders that mimicked the beautiful Ninety-Eight.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I had an SCX W41 coupe as well as a sedan with the 3100.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I’ve always chosen cars that guys love and women think are weird. The LS is the first one I’ve had that they like at all… but only in a “distinguished old guy” way. It adds ten years to my perceived age. But it also makes me look richer than I am so that ends up not mattering much.

            In general, they hated the G8 and my long-ago Taurus SHO, and didn’t notice my TSX at all. Didn’t matter… I was never interested in the sort of women who’d decide whether to hang out with me based on my car.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      This premise, that the future is bleak and (relatively) poor, is absolutely WRONG. We may not be as rich RELATIVE TO INDIA’S POOR, but we will all be much richer RELATIVE TO TODAY. Just compare what life was like for our parents and grandparents. Medicine is vastly better, we have cell phones and the internet, much better cars, there is nothing better about life 50 or 100 years ago.

      Almost all Americans today can afford a car, TV, air conditioning, computer, cell phone, and travel by airplane to places unreachable back then. The poorest might have pretty shitty cars, but even the shittiest beater is probably more reliable and better transport than even the best car of 100 years ago. Even the homeless, if they wanted to, could find some crappy job which would enable a cheap cell phone.

      Would even the richest people of 100 years ago prefer remaining then rather than living today as ordinary slobs? I seriously doubt it, unless it was the pure control freak in them wanting to remain a big frog in a small pond.

      The advances of the next 100 years are unimaginable. World poverty has decreased dramatically and will decrease even more even faster.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        +1

        If things really are never gonna get better, why don’t we just all Jonestown it out of here? The possibility of a better tomorrow is sometimes the only thing keeping some of us going.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        This, exactly. We won’t be able to use as many resources as we do today, but we’ll find ways to live better in spite of it.

      • 0 avatar
        Willyam

        Stop making sense!

        But seriously, we’re pu$$ies for the most part (with obvious military-type exceptions). I’ve done a lot of genealogy research over the past few years as old folks do, and found that many of my ancestors would regularly throw a bag on one shoulder, a musket on the other, and walk a few hundred miles to shoot it out with people firing cannons at them. And yet, many of them lived long lives afterwards digging the earth to make food without gasoline or electricity. They would laugh at me and probably hit me with sticks.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I’ve ridden a few Bajaj motorcycles and scooters in my time, they’re actually very well made and reliable vehicles. In just about everywhere but North America, of course, where here they’re too small, too underpowered, and too downmarket for anything more than a child’s toy.

    Never underestimate what 10hp can accomplish. On my daily 10 mile commute to an from work (each way), my Yamaha Zuma 125 is quite sufficient, and nobody passes me unless they’re willing to go well above the speed limit into cop-notices-you speeds, as I’m normally running about 10mph above the speed limit on Brook Road (US1).

    700hp Hellcat? A complete ‘effing waste. Unless you’re ego’s so threatened that you compensate any way possible.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You NEED a HELLCAT when you’re in America, otherwise a COMMUNIST IN A COROLLA can pass you.

      And you’re insecure if you CAN’T HANDLE a Hellcat. So THERE.

      /end caricature

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      If it wasn’t for the sheer army of leeches needed to be paid off preventing a $550 sticker price, and India priced insurance, in America, Bajaj (or some other purveyor of brand new, $550, reliable bikes) would do very well over here as well.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        With ~10hp they would never make it as a motorcycle. But for $550, I could see *some* use for them, probably for suburban errands or maybe even urban use (can you gear it low to accelerate at all? If so enjoy easy parking).

        It would be more of a “build it and they will come” thing more than something existing motorcycle riders would buy.

        But I’m terribly sorry you can’t have even more toxic chemicals and defective workmanship in all your Chinese (and US, should we drop the standards. Remember Enron) products.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          I don’t much remember Enron being in the “toxic chemicals” trade.

          8hp engines aren’t all that expensive to keep clean by MC standards. 200+HP/liter ones already pass over here. And they do spew out enough unburnt HCs at idle to give people headaches.

          Cab companies don’t buy vehicles with “shoddy workmanship.”

          In fact, Cab bike company owners with their own money on the line, are infinitely better at detecting “shoddy workmanship”, than any overpaid tax feeding leech army can ever hope to become.

          The tax feeders do have preferential access to the communication channels favored by the naive, gullible and well indoctrinated, though.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “A service that offered motorcycle taxi service in New York for three bucks a mile would certainly get some interest”

    Not between November and April it wouldn’t. And not in a place where people tend to want to carry some stuff with them.

    In certain limited situations, at certain times of the year, I could see it being used by a niche market, but I’m not sure if that would be enough to make it viable. And there are far different standards for liability and safety here (not just in terms of bikes being dangerous but in terms of how easy this makes it for a rider to hurt a driver or vice versa) than in India.

    “At some point the labor value of Americans will be forcibly equalized to that of their Indian counterparts…”

    This whole section is a dramatic oversimplification. It’s not a zero-sum game; this process won’t occur by taking current global GDP and shaving off the tall bits to fill in the valleys. The process is already underway, and while the rich world isn’t getting richer as fast as it used to be, it’s still getting richer, and the rest of the world is catching up rapidly.

    Are we going to enjoy certain subsets of gains brought on by temporal oddities, like insanely cheap stuff from China bought with low salaries but high technology manufacturing and transport? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean anything close to that we’re all going to be riding motorcycles. Please don’t feed the isolationists and the gold bugs.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Let’s have this talk again in twenty-five years. Maybe our cardboard box houses will be located close enough to each other that neither of us will have to take a Baxi.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        Ah, yes. The Club of Rome mindset arises again. I lived through it back in the early ’70s. Funny thing is, they could not have been more wrong.

        Lately, my mindset is to say f ’em all. None of the doom and gloom crap really affects me one little bit unless I let it. And I lived through the aftermath of 9/11 and saw, daily, the fading pictures of the lost on every telephone poll in the city. I’ve had enough of the cult of institutionalizing fear. Do bad things happen? Yes. Is the sky falling? Not for another 5 billion years it ain’t.

        To quote Paul Simon, “This is an age of miracles and wonders”. That’s the world I live in and for.

    • 0 avatar

      >>>while the rich world isn’t getting richer as fast as it used to be, it’s still getting richer

      And all the additional wealth is going to the top few percent. Middle class wages have been stagnant for 40 years.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        “And all the additional wealth is going to the top few percent. Middle class wages have been stagnant for 40 years.”

        In the US, maybe, but not in, say, Denmark or Norway. What you say is true but it isn’t an indication of a global slide in living standards; it’s more an indication of national priorities. My point that equalization of living standards doesn’t require a collapse in Western living standards stands regardless – and regardless of Jack’s always-charming pessimism.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        “And all the additional wealth is going to the top few percent. Middle class wages have been stagnant for 40 years.”

        If you have time in the middle of the day to fart around on this (or other) web sites, you are probably in the top 20% or so, which has fared OK.

      • 0 avatar
        ktm

        Methinks you missed the sentiment of that statement. It is not monetary enrichment (if you put aside your political leanings and misgivings) but a societal enrichment.

  • avatar
    DanyloS

    I took scooter taxi’s in Vietnam and Indonesia. It was hilarious basically paying pennies for a fare. The only scary part were the occasional counter to traffic flow moments and cutting through sidewalks and gas stations, and having offers to be taken to the “best brothels” otherwise the experience was a total laugh, seriously was giggling half the time. Definitely would not have the courage to pull off some of the traffic maneuvers these guys did especially with a passenger

    Would it realistically work in the US? Not so sure, but definitely a great way to get around in congested streets.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      I *love* experiences like that. Dangerous as hell, but so much fun that the fear centers are temporarily sent packing, the triumph of pure joy over fear.

      • 0 avatar
        Willyam

        I guess the Uber driver reviews might get pretty crucial in these situations, yes? (Never having been anywhere like that myself.)

        “Maybe the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others…”

  • avatar
    7402

    It’s common in Andean countries for such motorcycle/taxi service to exist between where public transport ends and the higher points of hillside slums. It’s just individual guys with motorcycles and entrepreneurial spirit. For a modest fee, they give a low-cost, uphill ride to tired workers going home at the end of a long day.

  • avatar

    I got stuck in gridlocked traffic in Paris once, on my bicycle. The cars were that close to each other.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    There have been motorcycle taxis in Bangkok for years, although they’re more on, how shall we say, an individual entrepreneur basis. No brightly colored safety vest, and forget about liability or life insurance, either of which you might well turn out to need.

  • avatar

    Isn’t the entrepreneurial mindset a thing of wonder?

  • avatar
    iamcanjim

    I lived in Shanghai for 2 years. There were still some motorcycle taxis in the outskirts (in most Chinese cities motorcycles are banned from the core and all major highways).

    In Shanghai, Taxis are cheap and pretty reliable by Chinese standards (better than New York, worse than Vancouver).

    But if you have to be there in the shortest possible time, and you couldn’t ride your own motorcycle or take the subway, nothing beats it.

    When riding my own Honda Rebel 250, I rarely could keep up with the motorcycle taxis, even with a 125 cc advantage and no passengers. The riders were just to skilled at making their way through the crowds.

    The downsides were: 1. Sheer terror. I mean take the terror of cliff diving, rock climbing and asking out the prettiest girl in 9th grade. 2. Grime. There is a peculiar 3rd world street grime that just covers you.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    Went to Vietnam with my wife I think it was 2008. Left the airport in Saigon sort of wandering in the direction of the parking lots. All we had was a hotel name and address I had written down from Lonely Planet guide lol. These two young looking guys on small bikes just like in the picture enthusiastically gestured to us. No fancy vests or decals. My wife had a knapsack and handbag, and I had a knapsack and a suitcase. We just looked at each other momentarily and the unspoken answer was…Oh yea!!

    So we each climbed on the back of a different bike. They seemed totally unfazed that I was gorilla arm dangling a suitcase, and off we weaved. I can promise you in that traffic mad Asian city the bike taxi is faster. Also cheaper. Just totally relax so you don’t mess up their steering. Took bike taxis back to the airport too.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    “Your humble author occasionally feels that his 105-horsepower CB1100 is “just enough” for carrying a female passenger”

    Oh come now, I’ve ridden two up with my older brother on a 90CC Honda S90 (making that same 8hp). It’s slow but it gets you there. My favorite two-up motorcycle so far has been my old 1978 Suzuki GS1000, bought in 2009 with 42k miles in fantastic condition. I was doing a tour through the Adirondacks with a few friends, one of them stuffed his CB650 Nighthawk into a ditch and was thankfully unharmed. We pushed his bike into the woods to collect later, then distributed his saddle bags and gear among the other bikes, and he rode pillion on the big ‘Zook. Totally comfortable and with its mildly tuned 8 valve motor and large and well padded seat, we cruised home without issue, even taking a few gravel roads. I now have a ’98 Bandit 1200S in the stable as a sort of replacement and it’s not quite as good at two up riding, despite an even stronger motor.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” I promise there will be a headsock and a fresh wipe. I’ll take a bath before. And after, if things progress beyond the strictly professional.”

    Jack ~ will you also be providing condoms ? .

    I’m an avid Motocyclist so Moto Taxis make sense to me , I see those three wheeled pedal bike taxis and wonder why not motorize one ? .

    I was waiting at a red light in Old Town Pasadena last week and an _ELECTRIC_TUK-TUK_ with three bench seats pulled up next to me…..

    WTF ?! .

    It had a Hotel’s name on the side of it, this is long overdue , just why electric ? .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    otter

    This is, as has possibly been pointed out by other posters, nothing new. ‘Motos’ have been all over Caracas (to take a city I have some familiarity with) for years. A bit terrifying in that case, given how they ride. And in India it is not too hard to see, say, a family of five on that same Bajaj. Two is easy.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    5 kW (3 kg) worth of electric motor will shove a bicycle to sixty miles per hour. 2 kWh (20 kg) worth of batteries will allow you to ride 40 miles in an hour. 2 square meters (250W, 2kg) of solar panels will recharge the batteries all the way in a work day. All of this could be done next week with decent stuff for $1500 and with hot stuff for $3000.

    So long as your electric bicycle doesn’t have to be faster or lighter than your neighbor’s, and you’re OK riding a highside-save-training machine everywhere, powered personal mobility is well down the list of things we’d lose if we ended up poorer in absolute terms.

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