Three toots for Tootle

The motorcycle ride-share serves as a reliable option for people with disabilities unable to use public transport

Kathmandu’s overcrowded public buses are a daily challenge for commuters, but they are virtually impossible for the visually impaired and people with disabilities. Fortunately there is now Tootle, the motorcycle ride-sharing app, for people like massage therapist Junu Shrestha, 31, who likes the door-to-door service.

“I am a female and a blind one at that. Micros are unsafe, taxis are expensive, but Tootle is affordable and convenient,” says Shrestha (pictured below) who commutes every day to work at a Boudha branch of Seeing Hands, the blind massage therapy centres in Kathmandu.

Chiran Paudel, 35, is fed up with extortion from taxi drivers taking advantage of his inability to see. Paudel tells his female colleagues to avoid micros and taxis, and call Tootle or the other ride-sharing app, Pathao, instead.

“I can’t count the number of times I’ve been cheated by taxi drivers,” says Paudel, who also works for Seeing Hands.


Kushal Pandey, 26, is partially blind, and says it is nearly impossible to get on crowded buses. “As soon as conductors see our walking stick or someone on a wheelchair they speed off, and if the driver does stop it is impossible to get the seat for the disabled.”

It is no coincidence that Tootle, which has been facing hurdles over taxation, has taken off among female commuters and people living with disabilities, who find public transport difficult and dangerous. Women make up half of Tootle’s users — and roughly 10% of the service's drivers — and there are more than 150 visually impaired riders a day.

“The Tootle app was developed to give everyone the freedom of movement, especially those living with disabilities, women who face harassment in crowded public transport and those without personal vehicles,” says CEO Sixit Bhatta, who adds that the firm’s software engineers have worked with the visually impaired and those with disabilities to make the app more user friendly.

Roma Neupane lost her left leg in an accident when she was eight. She is now a famous one-legged dancer and actress in Nepali movies. But despite her popularity, she hasn’t been able to travel easily to shoots around Kathmandu.

“I have to perform all over the city and often times the shoot goes late into night; I now manage it all with Tootle,” says Neupane, who calls for rides up to four times a day and to get home at night. “The drivers now know me and treat me like their sister.”

In the two years since its launch, the ride-sharing startup has also amassed support among the general public, created 10,000 jobs, and now serves thousands of passengers a day. Much more challenging has been navigating Nepal’s byzantine tax laws and the lack of electronic micropayments.

Bhimmaya Sunuwar (pictured driving the motorcycle above) a mother of two from Dharan, works as a Tootle driver from 9AM-3PM, when she is free from her duties as a mother and homemaker. She makes Rs30,000 a month, and Tootle does not take any fee from women drivers like her.

Says the 37-year-old: “The best thing is that the working hours are flexible and I can choose to ride when I want to. And the money is handy.”

Sonia Awale


Sonia Awale is Executive Editor of Nepali Times where she also serves as the health, science and environment correspondent. She has extensively covered the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, development and public health -- looking at their political and economic interlinkages. Sonia is a graduate of public health, and has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.