Forsche: History in the Making
The exclusive women's taxi service created a stir when it was launched, says Ammar Master.
“I had made a commitment to myself and all the ladies who had decided to work with me on a venture which was in no way a conventional venture because I had to change a lot of mindsets,” she says looking back to those tough days. Roy launched Forsche on March 8 this year, which also happens to be International Women’s Day. The novelty of the idea attracted widespread media coverage from local and international outfits.
PASSION FOR DRIVING
“I think we are history in the making, given the fact that not many people go through the (personal) difficulties I have faced,” she says, adding sadly that her mother passed away a few days earlier. Motivated by a passion for driving, Roy recalls the idea to start a women’s taxi service came to her at a traffic signal outside Mahalaxmi train station. With absolutely no money, she approached Jayesh Chandan of Ubiquitas, who gave Roy credit and released an advertisement for women drivers in a local daily. The response was overwhelming as 182 women applied for the position.
The initial plan was to start the service with 25 taxis, but Roy chose 18 drivers who today earn Rs 9,000 salary and are part of the Forsche family. These drivers are in their forties and have 15 years of driving experience with a good knowledge of Mumbai’s roads. They are all given training on the company’s work culture and are told to be very careful on the roads. “I am being watched under a microscope to see when I will make the first mistake,” Roy says.
##### Forsche taxis are Maruti WagonR Duos and Versas. Roy owns five taxis while the rest are taken on lease. The company charges between Rs 200-250 per hour for its services. All the taxis are heavily booked, out of which nine have regular customers. Mostly, women who have to attend wedding functions and lady executives use the Forsche taxi service. Other customers include senior citizens and children.
Eventually, Roy would like to have 50 taxis on the road. She is also looking for tie-ups with various hotels, but no contracts have been signed as yet. Her dream is to start a Churchgate-Nariman Point share-a-cab for women. However, it might be difficult to obtain permission for this as Forsche taxis would then come into direct competition with Mumbai’s traditional black and yellow cabs.
For the moment, Forsche is treated as a tourist taxi operator, and therefore it does not need to have the mandatory permits required even for private taxi companies like Meru and Mumbai Gold Cab. There are also plans to start a women’s taxi service in Pune in July and the Forsche Ladies Driving School in Mumbai by the end of August.
Moreover, Roy is contemplating to set up a self-defense academy at some point in the future. “A ladies’ taxi service does not have to be Mumbai-centric only, but it can also be started in cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore where women travel a lot,” Roy says.
CREATING AN INDUSTRY
Her vision is to transform this individual venture into an industry (much like the call centre BPOs) which in the long run would give jobs to women for whom age has become barrier to employment. Naturally, a helping hand must come from women empowerment non-government organizations. Funding for the venture, she adds, should not be a problem because there are foundations and NGOs willing to support such initiatives which in many ways lead to women empowerment. “My biggest challenge ahead will be to get a sustained flow of drivers,” Roy notes.
Already, additional revenue has started flowing in through endorsements on her taxis. “If corporate houses like the concept and see some vision and scope in the concept, I believe they should strengthen our hands with capital. What I as an individual can achieve in one year would be able to do the same in six months had there been solid support,” Roy says.
Despite the sometimes financial hardships of running a business like hers, Roy says there are no regrets. Business is good and every taxi is able to support itself. Over the next three to five years, Roy hopes to have a fair amount of market share in the pre-paid taxi segment.
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