No Fixed Abode: Baxi To The Future

no fixed abode baxi to the future

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.

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:



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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3 of 62 comments
  • Otter Otter on Dec 11, 2015

    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.

    • Jack Baruth Jack Baruth on Dec 11, 2015

      Riding on the back of a motorcycle is not new, no. Multi-million-dollar startups arriving in bunches? That's new.

  • Chaparral Chaparral on Dec 11, 2015

    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.

  • 01 Deville
  • Lou_BC This would be a good colour for anyone that would actually use their truck offroad, on gravel roads, in the winter or poor visibility situations.
  • EBFlex “getting a full charge in just about three hours or so. Not that it would’ve mattered if I couldn’t charge – I’d just run on gas.”And this folks is why PHEVs are the future and pure EVs will remain vanity products for the rich.
  • Pmirp1 Simple. Electrics are not yet prime time. In time, they may become the norm. For now, they are still the new kid on the block. A curosity. A status symbol. They are not the work horse of American life. Everyone knows that. You buy it because it is fast. It makes you feel like, you know, Prius like 10-15 years ago.Electrics have improved. Tesla is without a doubt the standard bearer. Still, long way to go before they can be your ONE vehicle. So companies charge more because these things are coooool. Not real.
  • Rich Benkwitt I’ll take that red and white 2 door and I guess the 4 banger so I can have the manual tranny just like my 1969 Bronco. I have my Wildtrak on order now waiting impatiently!