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Uber for Motorbikes Will Make Indian Commutes Faster — and More Dangerous

Indians are twice as likely die on a motorbike than in a car.

Heavy traffic is seen during a smoggy day in New Delhi on November 30, 2015. Some 150 leaders including US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, India's Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the start of the Paris conference on climate change, which starts on November 30, tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA        (Photo credit should read )
Heavy traffic is seen during a smoggy day in New Delhi on November 30, 2015. Some 150 leaders including US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, India's Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the start of the Paris conference on climate change, which starts on November 30, tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read )

It’s no wonder drivers in Bangalore rank as the angriest and most stressed-out in all of India: According to a Quartz study, it takes the southern city’s average tech worker at least two hours to commute to work through Bangalore’s crowded, disorganized streets each day.

That makes them an ideal guinea pig for ridesharing apps Uber and its Indian competitor, Ola — the two biggest names in India’s ride-sharing economy.

On Wednesday night, Ola announced it was rolling out a pilot program that would allow users in Bangalore to call for motorbike taxis, not just cars, on their phones. On Thursday, Uber followed with a similar announcement.

Since Uber launched in 2010, rideshare companies have proliferated across the globe, often undercutting the market for traditional cab drivers through cheaper fares and greater accessibility. They allow users to order rides through an app on their smartphones, and cut costs by letting drivers use their own cars.

Ola and Uber, which already manage fleets of unofficial cabbies in almost every major Indian city, including Bangalore, are advertising the pilot motorbike service as a faster and cheaper way to get around than the regular cars.

Uber is also astronomically cheaper in India than it is in the United States. The new UberMOTO program charges a 22 cent base fare, then charges 6.5 cents per mile, and an additional cent per minute. A three-mile trip taking 20 minutes would cost 61 cents, while the same trip in a car in the United States would cost at least nine dollars, or roughly 677 percent more.

Across Southeast Asia, motorbikes are a popular alternative to regular cars because they allow riders to weave between cars stuck in standstill traffic.

But there are risks for that reward: Despite Indian helmet laws in certain regions, motorbikes account for twice as many fatalities on the road than cars do. And for a country that in 2013 lost 231,000 lives to deadly traffic collisions — well over 600 per day — that means a high degree of danger for users of the new motorbike service.

As required by Bangalore’s municipal law, Ola and Uber will provide helmets to their customers. But it’s unclear whether the two companies will issue safety guidelines for drivers, such as clarifying whether they can dart between stalled cars or not. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for more information about safety regulations, but a spokesperson for the company  told FP in an email that the bikes and scooters used in the new program can’t be more than six years old.

Ola did not immediately get back to FP on questions about the safety risks of its program.

MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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