In November 2015, Ola had carried out a pretty remarkable display of corporate social responsibility. Chennai was being ravaged by the worst rains in recent memory, and Twitter, being Twitter, had been commenting and making light of the situation. Among the memes that had gone viral were photoshopped images showing a new Ola mobility option, Ola Boat, implying that given how badly the city’s streets were flooded, Ola would need to send boats instead of its usual sedans and Primes.
Hi #Chennai people download the brand new OLABoat App and reach your office, school, colleges on time #ChennaiRains pic.twitter.com/NfJtdi7IZP
— Satheesh Kumar (@SatheeshKCP) November 16, 2015
Ola, though, had taken things a step further — it had deployed actual boats in Chennai, which had helped rescue stranded people and move them to safety. Images of actual Ola Boats had surfaced online, and won widespread appreciation for the company. But three years later, what was a one-off in Chennai is likely to become an everyday feature — in faraway Guwahati.
@Olacabs is doing what government should do. Well done guys. #OlaBoat #chennairains pic.twitter.com/1atQ9ZUA7U
— Kiswanth ✴️ (@kiswanth14) November 17, 2015
Ola has said it’ll soon be piloting an app-based river taxi in Guwahati. The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Assam to conduct the pilot, which, like its cab service, will feature advance bookings and cashless payments. The river taxis will be high-speed, machine-operated boats, and Ola will ply them on the Lachit Ghat, Machkhowa to North Guwahati route, bringing the commute time down 2-5 minutes instead of the 45 minutes it takes by road.
“Assam has a very unique transportation landscape where water transport plays an important role in cities such as Guwahati,” said Chandra Mohan Patowary, Minister for Transport in the government of Assam. “We are certain that bringing a localised mode of commute on an app platform will enable convenient transportation for citizens and tourists alike, and we look forward to more such collaborations with Ola,” he added.
Ola had started off as a taxi company in 2011, but hasn’t been shy of trying out other modes of transport. Ola’s portfolio now includes not only taxis, but also shared cabs, bikes, autos, and on some routes, even shuttle buses. And in Guwahati, Ola’s app will likely soon show the Boat option. All the commentors on Twitter in 2015 had no idea how prescient their jokes had been.