In flood-ravaged Chennai, Uber’s Indian competitor has started a boat service

By road and by water.
By road and by water.
Image: Ola
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Uber’s competitor in India, Ola, has started a temporary boat service in the southern Indian city of Chennai, where heavy flooding has turned streets into waterways.

“Thousands of citizens have been stranded and are suffering due to heavy rains and water logging in Chennai,” Ola said in a press release. “Boats deployed by Ola will help ferry people to safer areas and in distribution of essential supplies like food and drinking water in affected areas.” Across the state of Tamil Nadu, the flooding has reportedly killed over 70 people so far.

Ola is making the free boat service available in areas that are waterlogged and partially submerged, using information provided by the fire and rescue department of Tamil Nadu. The services will be available for at least three days and may be extended depending on how long the waters take to recede.

According to an Ola spokesperson, it all started with a joke when someone tweeted a picture of Ola’s car-hailing app, modified to make it look like it included boat service:

Ola, however, took the joke seriously and contacted local firemen and Chennai Sport Fishing Company to gather the details of local rowers and fishermen, and started the service. Several employees and drivers who work with Ola are also coordinating with the fishermen on the ground to enable smooth operations.

“Each boat will be manned by two rowers and can ferry anywhere between five to nine people in a single attempt,” Ola said. “Ola is also providing rain gear to all rowers, which will help them ferry people without any hassles.”

The five-year-old Bengaluru-based company is naturally getting appreciation for its initiative on social media—though some have taken to trolling the company, for whose app has had problems in the past.