I signed up to become a Tootle rider. This is what I got out of it.I first heard of Tootle about seven months ago during a casual conversation with my friends. They said it was one of the easiest ways to commute around Kathmandu, but as the owner of a motorbike, I didn’t pay it any mind. A few months later, I became a part of Tootle — not as a customer but as a rider.
On September 25 last year, I went to the Tootle office in Jawalakhel with my driving licence and citizenship certificate. The formalities were minimal — an employee asked me a few questions, mostly regarding my driving proficiency. A thorough look into my driving licence to check whether the traffic police had punched a hole — a penalty for drunk-driving — and I was all clear to become a Tootle rider. After a small briefing on their rules and regulations, I hit the road.
I had no interest in becoming a full-time rider—in fact, I am a full-time journalist. So, I reserved riding for Tootle after eight in the evening, after work. This wasn’t just a social experiment; I had two primary reasons behind choosing to ride for Tootle part-time.
First, I need to save around Rs 40,000 for the production of my second song. Yes, I dabble in music — as a singer, songwriter and composer. Last year, I had released my first music video and I needed a significant amount of funds for the second.
But it wasn’t just money that attracted me to Tootle, which leads to the second reason—to meet a diverse range of people. This can be attributed to my journalistic instinct.
So, every evening, after filing my story for the day, I would open up the Tootle app on my cell phone and go for a ride. When I first started, I kept it a secret from my coworkers, as I assumed they wouldn’t take it seriously. My plan was to come clean once I had successfully completed my project. But I didn’t have to wait very long, partly because of the encouragement and respect I received from my clients.
From the very first day, I met a great many interesting people — from Gandip Sherchan, a middle-aged man who had returned from India six months ago after quitting his job in an automobile company to start his own business, to René Jøhnke, a Danish man who had recently married a Nepali woman and was on his way to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for registration.
During my rides, I would try to make small talk with my clients. I shared my reasons behind becoming a Tootle rider and many were very appreciative of my efforts. I made an effort to ask them questions regarding their profession, hobbies and Tootle experiences. I asked my female clients whether they had faced any kind of harassment from male riders and although most had few complaints, many objected to the aggressive driving and speeding of a number of male riders.
It wasn’t always a one-way conversation, as many of my clients would also ask me how long I had been working as a Tootle rider, how much I earned, and who I lived with. My conversations ranged from the increasing level of pollution in Kathmandu, massive traffic jams to our favourite music, movies and books.
I made it a point to be as friendly as possible. Even before I picked up my clients through the app, I tried to get their name correct. I learned that when we pronounce a person’s name correctly, there is a higher chance of having a good conversation.
One of my most memorable rides was with Fursang Lama, a guy in his early twenties. I picked him up from New Plaza at 8:15pm. On the way to Shantinagar, where I was dropping him off, I told him about my plan to release a second music video. He then asked me about my first music video and as I was giving him the details about my first song and its music video, which had crossed 1.6 million views on YouTube, he was taken by surprise. He told me that he had watched the video multiple times and liked the song as well. He got so excited mid-conversation that he was ready to pitch in to my effort to release my second video. “Dai, I want to help you and I’m sure my friends will help as well,” he said. His words encouraged me and it was interesting to find a person, albeit a stranger, who was so excited about my passion project.
Apart from small talk, my clients also appreciated Tootle as a faster, economical and more punctual ride, especially when compared to taxicabs. During my three-month stint as a tootle rider, I conducted over 70 rides. It has been nearly a month since I stopped being a Tootle rider, as I was successful in collecting 50 percent of the amount I was planning to save. I have put those funds in a small piggy bank in my room.
My Tootle rides took me to a number of nooks and crannies around the Kathmandu Valley. Mostly at night, I would venture into strange roads and gullies before I came back home after midnight.
Many of my riders appreciated what I did. A few would ask me with surprise why I was driving for Tootle despite being a journalist for such a big media house. My answer was that I wanted to be in touch with people from different walks of life, to hear from them, and share my experiences. Tootle brought me in touch with these people and they’ve all motivated me. My time with Tootle will stay with me for life.