India oil strike sparks interest in carpooling

Fri Jan 9, 2009 4:13am EST
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By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - It took a strike at India's state run-oil firms, and the queues of vehicles that snake out of petrol pumps almost run dry, to ignite an interest in carpooling in a nation where gridlocked roads are part of the daily grind.

Commutes in major cities were disrupted on Friday with taxis and autorickshaws going off roads, forcing people to walk as the strike by state oil company officials demanding better pay entered a third day. Flights were also disrupted.

But, a website that matches carpoolers across the country, saw a rise in new users, and has waived the registration fee of 150 rupees ($3) till the strike lasts.

"We hope this strike will trigger greater interest in carpooling because people are being forced to consider options," said founder Udit Bhandari, who offered a stranded man a ride.

"We have been promoting carpooling since 2006, but awareness is still very low, and the general tendency for people who own cars is to travel by themselves," he said, adding that the site, which connects carpoolers in 130 Indian cities, has more than 10,500 registered users.

Carpooling is a relatively new concept in India, where only 8 in 1,000 people own a car compared to about 450-500 in developed countries. But rising incomes and new launches had sparked a rush for new cars, with nearly 1,000 vehicles being registered daily in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Narrow roads and inadequate public transport have contributed to the nightmarish rush-hour traffic in cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, and the situation is set to worsen with low-cost cars such as Tata Motors' Nano waiting in the wings.

For dedicated carpoolers, these are reasons enough for anyone to consider the option.   Continued...

<p>A petrol kiosk worker puts up a sign beside a pump in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh January 8, 2009. Petrol stations ran dry and flights were delayed at India's busiest airport as a strike by state oil company officials demanding better pay entered a second day. REUTERS/Ajay Verma</p>