Wheelstreet bike rental experience in Pune

I had to visit Kamshet near Pune for a 4 day paragliding course, I had to figure out how to reach Native Place (the base for Nirvana Adventures). Native place is some 75 kms from Pune and 15 kms from Kamshet on old Mumbai-Pune highway. I considered various modes of transport [details in a separate post] and concluded it is best to rent a bike for 4 days- I can use it to reach Native place, ride around a bit in Pune on first and last day and possibly go around Native place if required.

Once I decided on bike rental, I considered various agencies in Pune who rent a bike.

Option 1: Snapbikes: Snapbikes is a popular rental agency in Pune. They don’t have a pan India presence like other companies but are strong in Pune. However, several online reviews said Snapbike prohibits their bike to be taken outside Pune city limit. As I had to go to Kamshet, this limitation was not acceptable to me. I sent them a message on their website but never received a reply.

Option 2: Royal Brothers: Have rented a few times from Royal Brothers in past and was willing to consider them again. But their delivery centre in Pune opens too late in the day, at 10 AM. I had to reach Native Place before 11 AM, some 90 mins ride, so couldn’t wait till 10 AM to collect the bike in Pune. If they’re opening shop at 10 AM it could be 10.30 by the time I can start- staff may come in late, bike may not be ready, there could be other customers waiting etc. Also Royal Brothers have a customer unfriendly accident damage policy- customers are required to pay up to 25% of bike’s value in case of accidents. Insurance will be claimed only for larger amounts. This is an unnecessary risk for me as a customer. These two reasons ruled out renting from Royal Brothers.

Option 3: ONN Bikes- Their rental is cheap, includes GST but they are not operational in Pune yet.

Option 4: Other local players- there’re many shops that rent a bike. Most have a static website which doesn’t allow you to book. Bookings happen via phone n email. I had to rule out these agencies for this trip, as I had very little time and wanted a reliable firm. If you’re Pune local then these shops could be great to deal with- you can build a personal relationship and good deal on rental without much complicated procedures.

Option 5: Wheelstreet: Though wheelstreet website lists start time from 2 AM onwards, I could spot availability only when I searched with 8 AM. I would have preferred to collect little earlier but 8 AM was not bad. They have a few two wheeler models, starting with Activa for Rs 500 per day (weekday). For 4 days, the rent would be close to 2700 rupees (2 weekdays, 2 weekend days + 18% tax). This was a bit steep for my need but under the circumstances was best option. Wheelstreet has operations in many cities and a reliable procedure to book and get confirmation. I booked an Activa and got confirmation same day.

I went to collect the bike at Kothrud Ved Bhavan road expecting a Wheelstreet delivery centre, but was guided to parking lot of a private residence inside the apartment complex. Has to undergo a visitor registration process giving my personal details. The person who came to handover the bike said the Activa I had booked is damaged and they are giving me a Pulsar 150. They tried to extract few hundred rupees extra from my claiming Pulsar is 200 rupees extra per day but they will give it to me for Rs 100 extra. I declined stating upgrade being done for their convenience and not mine. He said “I could have given a splendor also” I said “you can”,reply was “but it is in some other part of city”- I was like that is not my problem. I need to leave now. The person on phone also said “sir standard process in this case is you have to cancel and make fresh booking” which was a total lie. I refused to pay extra and he said “we’ll see at the time of return”. 
I had to give original ID card and 1000 rupees deposit to the person who came to handover the bike- he didn’t appear like an employee of wheelstreet- mostly a private owner listing his bike on wheelstreet- Royal brother takes photocopy of DL during registration and doesn’t ask for original document to be deposited. Also deposit amount is included during booking and no cash payment is involved. (But the RB's operator in Coimbatore did take original document). Wheelstreet can improve their process a bit here in this regard.

The bike was a whiteboard pulsar with multiple damages. It had no fuel. All agencies claim to provide full tank and ask customer to return full tank, but in practicality almost every operator gives empty tank. When I asked about the fuel, response was “there’s enough petrol to go till fuel station”. Now I need to leave all other work and scramble for nearest fuel station. I hate this business. I have to calculate exactly how many kms I will use, figure out bike’s mileage and fill right quantity of fuel. Bike documents were also not given to me (for showing in case of police checks)- when I insisted, I was offered soft copy- which was promptly sent but was too soft for any practical use- refer image below- was impossible to view anything.
I was asked to say “this is my friend’s bike” in case of any checks- which is again illegal. I took photos of all the damages and sent to the owner for reference, so that they don't claim existing damage as new. Also told him that since documents are not clear, any police fine should be fully reimbursed. Fortunately there wasn't any police inspection during my trip.
I used the bike for about 158 kms over 4 days-added 300 Rs worth petrol (about 3.75 litres at about 80 rupees per litre). I think I gave them at least half a litre free fuel.

Wheelstreet started sending marketing SMS even before my first booking was finished!

Return was smooth. I got the document and deposit returned. But I noticed few other residents in the apartment complex wondering why this flat owner has so many bikes in his parking lot.

Most rental agencies now don’t want to invest in vehicles, staff and delivery centres. Because if they do, their cost of operation will increase and profit will drop, as demand is not consistent and utilization is very poor during weekdays. Thus most of them have turned commission agents- allowing individual bike owners to list their bikes on their platform, so that bike owners take care of buying, maintaining and handing over the bike to customers on a revenue sharing basis. Companies like wWheelstreet, Royal Brothers who have a good customer base will focus only on marketing, customer acquisition and booking, while operations are done by partners or individuals. This approach is very problematic to customer due to multiple reasons, as stated below
  • Rental companies do not have much control on how bikes are maintained- the bike given to me had damaged footpegs, zero accessories and had battery light ON all the time.
  • Partners or operators try to outsmart the rental company and try to make some extra money- they tried to extract more money for me for the unsolicited upgrade, they give empty tank bike so that customer always returns with more fuel (while they are required to give bike with full tank) and various other tactics like claiming existing damage as new and other means.
  • Partners also list one bike on multiple rental companies/platforms, to maximize their earnings. If they get a more profitable/long term booking from another customer for same bike, they will have zero hesitation to cancel your booking (if cheap upgrade is not possible). The Royal Brother operator in Coimbatore said he has tie up with at least 4 different rental companies. So irrespective of which company you book, fulfillment is probably done by same partner.
  • Customer expects a quality experience, which is not possible when rental company is working on commission basis and has little control over the partner and their way of doing business.
  • Most partners/operators do their business in an illegal way- the white board vehicles are not supposed to be used for commercial purposes, operating a business from a residential complex is also wrong. As a customer why should I give my ID to a total stranger? Will Wheelstreet own the responsibility if my ID is lost/damaged or misused by their partner? Wheelstreet doesn’t inform customers that they are operating on a partner model and white board bikes will be issued. If I had known earlier I could have considered alternatives. Knowing this at the time of collection is too late to think of alternate options.
I feel wheelstreet should ensure certain standards while bike is handed over- there should be no alert lights for battery, service etc, minimum 1 litre fuel, some basic accessories- tank cover, crash and saree guard etc. Eliminate need for physical cash deposit and ID proof submission. Also they should indicate if the booking will be fulfilled by wheelstreet itself or a 3rd party partner. When I rent a bike, I should be able to begin my journey without worrying about possible breakdown, law enforcement issues or running out of fuel.

Overall I would say wheelstreet Pune experience was Ok-ok, as there were not too many alternatives. But they can definitely improve the process and experience for their customers.

Post booking completion I got a feedback SMS but the link was forcing me to install the app, which I was not keen. Wheelstreet can try giving a web option as well.

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