SmartShift expands operations

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SmartShift, a Mahindra Group venture, has expanded its operation to Chennai.

Team CV

A digital start-up from the Mahindra Group, SmartShift has launched its operations in Chennai. It is the fifth city that marks the entry of the company. Signalling an expansion of operations, the start up company operates in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. Working towards elevating the efficiency in the last mile transport space, SmartShift is acting as a platform for cargo owners and transporters to work with each other, smoothly and flawlessly.

Ensuring a mutually beneficial relationship for both, the cargo owners and transporters, SmartShift is an intra-city digital load exchange platform. Enabling efficient transportation from one point to the other, SmartShift was developed to empower consignees (both businesses and individual users) to avail of an efficient service. They can access SmartShift service through an Android-based mobile app. They can also access SmartShift through a website, or the dedicated call centre. The key differentiator that SmartShift brings to the last mile transport logistics space is the ‘reverse bidding’ feature. The app. successfully emulates the bargaining process between consignees and transporters. It allows them to close the deal at a mutually acceptable price.

In 21 months since launch, SmartShift has emerged as the leading industry player in Mumbai and Hyderabad. It is gaining unprecedented traction in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, claim industry sources. Said to have become a preferred choice for over 16,000 stakeholders, clocking over 1500 transactions per day approximately, SmartShift is looking at the next phase. It is looking to achieve an ambitious milestone of creating a community of one-million stakeholders over the next three years. Kausalya Nandakumar, CEO, SmartShift, at the launch of SmartShift in Chennai, said, “We are delighted to enter the state of Tamil Nadu by launching our operations in one of its largest cities, Chennai. The city is in many ways a gateway to a state that has the largest SCV penetration. Tamil Nadu is a mature market with a strong industrial base. We believe this market has both the need and digital presence to adopt a transport aggregator model like ours. We are confident of driving exponential value in this market.”

With the logistics industry in India pegged at USD 130 billion according to a report, 35 per cent to 40 per cent of it is said to be in the intra-city space. It is expected that 18 lakh small commercial vehicles will carry out millions of transactions everyday, and across the country. “Going ahead we will not only focus on enabling improved business productivity for our customers but also nurture customer relationships, moving beyond mere transactional business,” mentioned Nandakumar.

Offering transparent pricing, and an efficient simple one-click booking process with the ability to track cargo after dispatch, SmartShift, claim industry sources, is already turning out to be a significant player. Citing the knowledge advantage SmartShift could profit from as part of the Mahindra Group, which has a stake in the Indian CV space, and an understanding of the ecosystem, sources opine that an amount of dynamic agility is expected of the company. As the first intrapreneurial start-up incubated within the Mahindra Group, SmartShift combines the process, governance and discipline of a large mature business with the tenacity, nimbleness and fierce competitiveness of a start-up. As a young company SmartShift is said to be strongly leveraging the multi-disciplinary mentorship of the Mahindra Group. It is also said to be leveraging the access to 150 Mahindra Group companies, working as a seamless logistics solution partner.

The unique SmartShift service allows consignees to book a vehicle in less than three minutes; negotiate the best price through a unique first of its kind ‘bidding’ feature. The service also enables the consignees to choose from a range of certified and trained SmartShifters. It enables the consignees to track the selected SmartShifter and ensure that the consignment is delivered safely and securely. Allowing cargo transporters to enjoy more business through faster and easier order receiving technology, SmartShift is making life easier for transporters and fleets. To avail of more business, it is also providing the option to accept or decline a delivery request based on pricing, or the availability of vehicles. Transporters also get an opportunity to explore and expand to other markets; to look forward to a higher earning potential.

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Aiming to expand to 29 cities with 70 per cent of the SCV base in the country, the near-term plan of SmartShift is to cover metro cities. The company is currently following a well charted road map, which includes an expansion to Pune, Kolkata, Jaipur, Chandigarh, and Delhi NCR. Looking at turning the daily logistics requirements of SMEs at least 30 per cent more efficient, SmartShift, for transporters, is providing a first in the industry feature of phone integration and efficient pricing through return trips. With focus on community building, SmartShift is said to look at disrupting the present inefficient ecosystem. Driven by an ambitious goal of owning cargo transportation in the country, SmartShift currently services more than 1000 pin codes in four cities.

Shuttl promotes ‘SAFE’ commute

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Bus aggregator, Shuttl, is promoting ‘SAFE’ commute to attract more footfall.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

With office commute a tough challenge in Indian cities for many, aggregators are finding a calling. Even as Uber and Ola strive to expand the boundaries of their business by looking at buses, three-wheelers and two-wheelers, the need for safe travel is most felt. After the reporting of some untoward incidences in various medias, the need for safe commute has been gathering stream, especially among women. Finding a calling, bus aggregator Shuttl has launched ‘SAFE’. An acronym for Secure Anxiety Free Experience, ‘SAFE’ aims at women commuters as part of Shuttl’s endeavour to provide a safe and secure commuting experience to all and the sundry. A prototype that will be applied in the ‘beta’ form in Delhi National Capital Region to start with, ‘SAFE’ contains multiple safety tools for passengers. Leveraging technology and data according to Shuttl founders Amit Singh and Deepanshu Malviya, ‘SAFE’ is designed to transform the way Indians commute. Designed to make commuting safe and secure, ‘SAFE’ will roll out over the next three qurters. Tailored to address the complex travel requirements of commuters in Delhi NCR, ‘SAFE’, according to Sing, will touch each of the 20,000 rides the company undertakes per day.

A venture of Super Highway Labs, Shuttl is funded by Lightspeed Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Times Internet. The company has tied up with 250 operators, and operates a fleet of 450 buses on 50 routes. Building routes one at a time to overcome the complexity posed by Delhi NCR, Shuttl worked closely with JCBL and SML Isuzu to develop ‘SAFE’. Developed at JCBL under SML Isuzu according to Singh, ‘SAFE’ is a pilot midi bus. It is built as per the specifications proposed by Shuttl engineers, and with a prime aim to deliver a safe ride to the commuters. Expressed Malviya, “Traditional understanding of data as text and numbers has gone through a paradigm shift with the advent of ‘Machine Learning’ and ‘Internet of Things (IoT). By using image and sensor data we are now taking a big leap forward in deriving intelligence to deliver a safe experience for our customers.” In the process, Shuttl is also looking at lower costs. The company resorted to local manufacturer to lower costs. It roped in Raspberry Pi 3, Open CV, DLIB, and Arduino Uno for tech updates. Pocket size systems like Raspeberry Pi are known to cost not more than Rs.2,500.

Safe and secure

Hosting numerous features for an authentic trip, ‘SAFE’ was developed in house. The system starts operation according to Singh from the bus captain. The driver cockpit, he mentioned, has been equipped with an alcohol sensor, placed in close proximity to the driver. The alcohol sensor will cut off the ignition the instance it detects any alcoholic substance. An audible warning is raised. To further enhance security, camera in the driver’s cabin could be installed. The camera will monitor the driver’s body language. It will check if he is feeling drowsy, or is distracted by a smart phone; is not paying enough attention on the road. As part of ‘SAFE’, the company is also using technology to identify the driver. This is to avoid any directional flaw. Drivers understanding Hindi or English will be undergo route training and behaviour training. If the systems observes that the driver is drunk, it will have the bus terminate the route at the next stop. Tying up with OnGrid and India Stack to authenticate drivers, Shuttl is keen to incorporate changes in ‘SAFE’ to make it even more effective and fool proof.

Authentication

Expressing that the face is the password, Singh averred, “The system necessitates facial recognition of the passenger expected to board the bus.” To make the procedure devoid of friction, a camera has been fitted at the entry point. It makes certain that the right passenger has boarded the bus. Once the picture of the commuter is uploaded, passenger verification will eliminate any possibility of bus overload and ticket check while boarding, said Singh. He stated, “Since we have face detection in place, we can use ‘Aadhar API’ to authenticate the user and get him on-board without any human intervention. This would eliminate the need to book a ticket, or a slot.

The ‘SAFE’ bus has also been equipped with a CCTV camera. It could provide a live feed. In case the passenger is keen that he or she be tracked by his or her dear ones, all that he or she has to do is to share a URL link. The URL link shared with passenger can thus be traced for live footage by friends and family. In case of any emergency, the Shuttl App. SOS feature could be used to raise an alarm. A panic button has also been placed near the front door for physical access. The ‘homecheck’ feature ensures a call back confirmation for a safe arrival at home.

Convenience

Shuttl ‘SAFE’ buses offer free ‘Wi Fi’ services to those who are on board. Commuters can thus allow them to under take personal work. The buses could be also fitted with a television screen for on board entertainment. For privacy, commuters are supplied with personal earphone jacks. They could control the level of engagement and sound. “Earphones will not only keep the sound levels low inside the bus, they will also provide commuters with a space of their own,” said Singh. To be rolled out in a phased manner, Shuttl is optimistic about ‘SAFE’. It is confident of its acceptance. Both, Singh and Malviya, are of the opinion that ‘SAFE’ should be accepted in Delhi NCR first. Expansion of ‘SAFE’ to other cities will follow once the technology is found relevant in the Delhi NCR market. “Building a mass system is quite a task. Add to it the task of operating a bus that is used by 40 people, and it only becomes more complex, signed off Malviya.

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Q. When will ‘SAFE’ services take-off?

A. Emergency tool kits like SOS and ‘homecheck’ will be rolled out immediately. Driver authentication will follow soon after. It will be six months before every feature is rolled out. Like any other app., one could register for authorisation. In case of facial recognition, we have a fall back mechanism. We also have a sound-based technology that we are using for commuter authentication. There is a sound that is emitted by the mobile phone that is detected by the driver’s phone. Authentication is thus accomplished.

Q. Such technologies come at a cost. Does the commuter end up with a burden?

A. Like the face recognition algorithm, many technologies are software-based. It is the same with the one that monitors the driver behaviour. To keep the costs low, we scale up the technologies to a certain level. It is the same with the hardware. Costing no more than the cost of a mobile phone, it will not make much difference over the lifetime of an asset.

Q. How big is your fleet?

A. We influence the purchase of buses, but do not own them. All the buses that we engage are run by third party operators. These include 30-, 40- and 50- seat buses depending on the route that they take. We have long term agreement with those who own these buses and maintain them. We have tied up with them for a periodic payment, which has nothing to do with the number of commuters taking the bus and the fare we are charging. We influence the bus specifications as per our requirement. This is in terms of seats, AC power, charging points, and more. Since most OEMs already offer most of the specifications that we require, it serves us to tie up with them. Part of our requirement includes bigger windows and higher capacity air conditioners.

Q. Do you insist on a separate driver cabin?

A. There are certain buses where the driver cabin is inaccessible to passengers. In certain buses like Travelers, the driver and commuters are part of the same saloon. We call for regular feedback from commuters. He or she can speak out about any issue faced. If the feedback involves driver misbehavior, we immediately appraise the our vendor of the same.

Q. For technologies, what kind of an association are you looking at?

A. We have associated with OnGird for Aadhar-based verification of the drivers, and for police verification. We have developed a three-tiered training module for the drivers. He should be able to understand and use our apps. He should follow the right route; behave and be sensitive to the needs of the commuters. He should know what action to take in case of an emergency We conduct refresher training and audits to ensure the driver offers a good service.

Q. How do you chalk out the routes?

A. We keep increasing the frequency, and the span of our buses as per the demand. Some of our vendors have grown with us. They have grown from having one bus when they joined us. I believe that the 30-to 35-seat buses make for good mathematics. They do good speeds, and are comfortable. We have many 40-seat buses too. We are currently working with 250 vendors. They have been supporting us with ample fleet. We are currently helping them only to procure more buses and build up our existing system. So we are looking forward to grow strongly. For route engineering, we have building up data from Google maps. We are tying up with telecom companies to design routes. We have been able to build an algorithm which allows us to design a network such that we are catering to all the demand pockets. We look at data in detail so that we are able to iterate on the route. If we feel that the pick-up point is not working then we could change it after a week based on customer feedback. It doesn’t happen such that a route will start after watching that there is much crowd at Dhaula Kuan. For any route to begin, it has to be supported by data.

Q. What made you to opt for alcohol detection system?

A. We integrated alcohol detection system into ‘SAFE’ to enhance safety and security. If the driver tries to switch off the system or tried to tamper with it, we are immediately informed. It may not be possible for us to monitor 450 driver cabins at all-tome, or in one go, what is possible for us to do is to get a live feed. If a passenger wants to monitor the driver it is possible for him or her to do so. If any anomaly is detected, our team takes steps to recover it.

Q. Awareness about the routes Shuttl runs seems to be lacking. Any steps you are taking to increase awareness?

A. The nature of the business that we are in is of the supply constraint type rather than of the demand constraint type. When we launch a route, we do some ground activation initially. Post that it is largely organic in nature, and accompanied with a referral channel that we have on our app. When people tend to see our buses in their area, they tend to load our app. So these are the channels that are working for us. Wherever we see that there is a lack of demand, we use digital marketing to attract commuters. The way we see it, a city like Delhi needs many more buses than it has. When we will come to operate 1500 buses or more, our visibility will be much higher. The need to convey that such a service exists will no longer be there. Interestingly, people tend to find us rather than we finding them. Our challenge is not only get more buses, but to get better routes and coverage.

Q. It should be a tough business?

A. It is a tough business. The pool ride business of cab operators does not effect us since they operate for short distances. There are certain areas where we lock horns with them. Those areas are limited. What we are doing is targeting people who will leave their cars behind and ride with us.

Q. Aren’t regulations proving to be hard to navigate past?

A. The sad part that we are witnessing is terming a service illegal. It is not illegal. It is compliant with the Motor Vehicle Act, and with the Contract Carriage Act. We need to maintain a passenger list as per the contract carriage. For the safety program, that was the concept we worked with from the very start. The way to look at it is that there is a lack of understanding. Awareness is needed. We hope that awareness will be achieved at some point. The fact is, commuters are benefiting from the service that we offer. Rules should be framed to encourage such businesses. At the end of the day we are trying to give people a safe commuting medium. We would like them to leave their cars behind. This will reduce pollution. We are aware that it takes time to understand technology. The Act at no point says that there is a need to maintain a physical list. Cash transactions were restricted. Ticketing was pointed out at. We work on a subscription-based model. Multiple stops was pointed out, which again is not listed under the Contract Carriage Act. School buses cannot operate with a single stop.

Hubli-Dharwad to get BRT system

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Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is set to be operational in a few months from now.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system is not new to India. The Rainbow BRT system at Pune is said to be the first to began operation in India. Under the aegis of Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML), the system envisages 113 km of dedicated bus corridors along with buses, bus stations, terminals and intelligent transit management system. The first route of the Delhi BRT system began operation in 2008. It drew inspiration from a similar system in Curitiba, Brazil, which had been in operation since 1975. RITES (formerly Rail India Technical and Economic Service) and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi) were appointed to design and implement the system. Set to be scrapped for a reason that it is difficult to access the platforms, the Delhi BRT system may soon be history. Like the Delhi BRT system, the Pune BRT system also faced resistance initially. In 2010, the Jaipur BRT system began operation. A year later, the Vijaywada BRT system was also operational. Including Delhi BRT system, industry sources claim that there are 24 BRT networks in India. Of these nine are said to be under construction, or are in the planning stages. The Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is claimed to be progressing the fastest.

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The design

The construction of Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is funded by the respective state government. To be precise, the Government of Karnataka has a 70 per cent stake in the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), the Hubli-Dharwad BRTS Company Limited (HDBRTSCO). HDBRTSCO has an authorised capital of Rs.200 million, and is implementing the project. The remaining 30 per cent stake is shared by Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation (HDMC), North-Western Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC) and Hubli-Dharwad Urban Development Authority (HDUDA). The operation and maintenance work will be done by Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation (HDMC) in association with Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). Claimed to operate over a distance of 70 km, the Hubli-Dharwad BRTS, claim sources, was originally designed to operate over a distance of 22.25 km, originating from Hubli CBT and ending at Dharwad CBT. Overtime the corridor was extended to include the Agricultural University, Dharwad. A four-lane bus corridor will thus run in the middle of an eight-lane freeway, mention sources. They state that the freeway will include two lanes for mixed traffic in both the directions. The width of the corridor is set to vary from 24.5 m to 44.0 m. Four underpasses for regular traffic are planned at Unkal Lake, Unkal-Cross Road, Bairidevarakoppa, and Navanagar. Designed to have two lines – trunk and feeder, the BRT system will have 33 stations. Out of the 33 stations planned, 12 stations will be located on the 44 m wide express corridor starting from Taj Hotel and ending at the Gandhinagar Cross, Dharwad.

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Smart transport

Located at the middle of the BRT corridor, the stations will be four-meter wide. Each station will act as reference point for GPS. Each station will have LED displays, which will display the schedule of bus arrival and departure. The BRTS (trunk) corridor, claim sources, will operate as a ‘closed system’ whereas the feeder and city bus services will operate in the ‘open system’. The ridership for the project was said to be 237,968 in 2014 against a fleet size of 190 buses. In 2017, the ridership is estimated to be 564,000 against a fleet size of 452 buses. Over 200,000 people are expected to use the corridor daily. Considering the rush the buses currently plying between Dharwad CBT and Hubli CBT experience in either direction, the BRT system will have to have a high frequency of buses on the corridor. With the ridership estimated to reach 400,000 people by 2021, the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is no doubt one of the important such projects in the country.

Designed with central bus lanes to minimise interference of traffic plying on the mixed traffic lanes, the system will include segregated bus ways, controlled bus stations, physical and fare integration with BRT feeder, off-board ticketing through smart cards and paper tickets, and high quality buses (standard as well as articulated). The corridor is designed to operate regular and express services. Consisting of two lanes for BRTS buses on either side of the median bus station facilitating overtaking lanes for express services, the key infrastructure includes stations with two and three-bay configuration to support standard and articulated bus docking. Tickets shall be issued at stations, and commuters with a valid ticket or a smart card can only access the platform through automatic sliding doors. Two new depots at Dharwad and Hubli respectively are being constructed for the parking and maintenance of the buses. The depots will be equipped with modern facilities like automatic washing and automated oil dispensing system. HDBRTS is also developing a divisional workshop for heavy maintenance at Hubli.

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An order for 30 (18 m long) vestibule buses has been placed by HDBRTS with Tata Motors. The buses will have a floor height of 900 mm. An order for 100 (12 m long) two-axle buses with a floor height of 900 mm has been placed with Volvo Buses India. These buses, claim industry sources, are of the UD make. Sources also mentioned that an order for 60 (9 m long and 650 mm floor height) midi buses has been placed with Ashok Leyland. The buses will be laced with an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) as part of the need to comply with UBS II specifications. To make the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system truly smart, the ITS will include automated vehicle location system, passenger information system, automatic fare collection system, transit management system, and an incident management system. With the learnings of the BRT system at Ahmedabad, Pune and Delhi put to use, the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system, claim industry sources, will have buses that are fitted with a camera, DVR and speakers. The driver will have an address system at his disposal, may he feel the need to make an announcement or provide information.

Engineered to have a distance based fare structure, the BRT system will offer smart cards and bar-coded paper tickets to commuters. On-board ticketing will be used for the feeder service, integrated with the BRT corridor. HDBRTS will introduce complete transit management system to automate schedule of buses and manpower. Different organisation functions like administration, finance and human resources will be integrated for efficient and smooth functioning. An incident management system is designed to monitor day-to-day operations, and supplement passenger safety other than aiding effective enforcement with the help of technologies like CCTV and passenger announcement system. HDBRTS will setup a control centre to monitor all systems. Called the central monitoring center, it will provide space and connectivity for around 32 workstations, which will monitor the ITS systems.

Commuter-centric

Expected to operate with the prime aim of being commuter-centric, the BRT system at Hubli-Dharwad is slated to be operational by the end of this year. Opinion is divided on the time-line of September. Some industry sources with the knowledge of the development claim that it may take a little longer to ensure a smooth start. They stress on factors like accessibility and safety, and the need for integration with other new and existing modes of transportation to increase transit ridership with convenience. It is necessary that this BRT system does not suffer from the resistance faced by the system at Pune during the initial period, said another source. He also drew attention to the factors like difficulty in accessing the station, which caused the Delhi BRT system to falter. Attention was also drawn towards the need to provide parking space (on ground or under ground) near the station for two wheelers and cars to make it easier for commuters to avail of the BRT services. Also, stops for the feeder bus service.

The success of the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system will lie in the last mile transportation opined a source. He pointed at the Ahmedabad and Indore BRT system’s inability to address last mile connectivity. Much attention was paid at Ahmedabad to provide dedicated routes for buses to operate with hardly any shaded pedestrian footpaths sans obstacles, he said. The same is now being rectified, he added. If the demand for CNG buses in the interest of environment picked up albeit after the order for 30 diesel-powered vestibule buses, 100 diesel-powered 12 m long buses was placed, the fact is, diesel-powered buses are proving to be more economical and practical considering the operating costs of CNG and its availability. Diesel technology too has been progressing, and emission levels with the migration to BSIV have further dipped. While the scope for electric buses looks brighter, the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system could do with efficient management and commuter friendly operations.

In pursuit of business

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Lack of business has the transport industry worried.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Satwinder Singh Sukhala, a small time business man who repairs truck radiator is worried. He is in search of work, and there isn’t much coming his way. Until last month, that is before the GST rolled out, Sukhala did not get time to look up. There were times when he spent 12 to 14 hours working on radiator jobs at his small shop in Delhi’s biggest trucking hub Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, without taking a break. There’s been a turnaround. Rather than carrying out repairs, Satwinder has come to spend time in worrying about meeting his expenses. Other than assure the people he deals with of a timely payment, Sukhala has little else to do. Time he knows is running out. But having spent so many years of his life repairing radiators, Sukhala is suddenly feeling like a fish out of water. The trade has taken a deep dive. Almost 90 per cent of it is lost. Pointing out to a line of trucks parked, he states that this is not a natural occurrence. Never did he see trucks standing for more than eight hours at a stretch he mentions. They can be seen parked at the same place for days together.

Post the GST roll-out, various stakeholders of the CV industry have been finding their means of livelihood go into a limp mode. Affected by demonetisation given the cash-intensive nature of the business, the CV industry last experienced a hike in freight rates in March 2017. Since April 2017, freight rates have been slipping. On April 01, 2017, the country migrated to BSIV emission norms. It proved to be a disruption. Sales shrunk. Business was already slowing down at the tyre shops, spares retailers, body builders, and dhabas. GST seems to have caused them slow down some more. Insisted Sukhdev Singh (name changed on request) that the cargo movement has gone south by almost 60 per cent. Fleets are not rolling the way they once did. Finding new load is proving strenuous. One gets a feeling that uncertainty has set in. The entire chain seems to have come to a halt. Malkit Singh, a transporter in Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar said that there has been a severe set back. “I don’t even get half the trips out of the eight to 10 trips of truckload I used to get until two months ago on the Delhi-Bangalore route,” mentioned Singh. Another transporter Ritesh Prasad averred, “I used to have six to seven orders every month for Mumbai. Half the month has already passed, and my third bill is waiting to take off.”

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Used to carrying out transactions without proper paperwork, the transport industry is finding it tough to crack the GST. Used to cash transactions with not much record keeping, spare parts retailers and shops selling lubes are seeing their business dwindle. The drop is said to be so drastic, that a six months timeline looks overtly optimistic. According to a report by the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), almost two and a half million trucks are involved in cargo movement and just ten per cent of them comply with the carriage by road act. There have been very few takers for new orders what with the execution of older orders difficult. Many still don’t comply with GST norms, which is looked upon as a mechanism that includes vigorous tax checks across all levels. Transporters seem extremely wary about the new regime. They are very cautious, and have been pushing the traders for GST numbers. They are not willing to engage with them in case they do not furnish the GST details.

According to an industry source, the number of trucks entering Delhi, or passing through the capital city, has gone down by more than 50 per cent. He reasoned that companies are in a wait and watch mode because of the huge uncertainty that prevails. They are looking for a cleaner air, he said. Since 90 per cent of the transport industry falls under the unorgaised domain, it is looking difficult for them to sustain. The high costs associated with fulfilling the requirements of GST will simply make it unsustainable. About 25 kms from Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, over 5000 trucks are said to have come to halt in Faridabad. A major drop in supply orders is said to be reason. The general secretary of All Faridabad Transporters Association, Subhash Kaushik, is known to say that a majority of trucks are parked in the Transport Nagar, and other places due to lack of orders.

Drivers are happy

With many trucks parked for days on end, drivers are a happy lot. A regular on the Delhi-Kashmir route, Mukesh Pratap is happy because it takes him four days to reach Kashmir. He used to take five days earlier, even six. The disappearance of VAT related check posts has ensured time saving. We no longer have to wait to pay inter-state taxes, mentioned Pratap. With the instances of regular stoppages and checks at the city entry and exits points having gone down, truck drivers are finding it easier to ply. They now spend more time on the road than off it The time taken to reach the destination has gone down, stated Mahadev Ghori, who shuttles between Delhi and Jaipur. Opined an expert, that the gains may be short-lived. Once more and more trucks hit the road, the density of traffic will increase. The time taken to reach the destination will go up. Over a cup of tea at the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, a driver expressed that checks are still continuing. Two other drivers said that arbitrary charges are still being levied. It is not as seamless as one would think of therefore, he mentioned. With over 50 per cent drop in fleet utilisation, parked trucks have begun to create a bottleneck. Transporters point at suppliers and express that they have stopped placing orders to avoid any problem during or after transportation. They fear that the business should not plunge below 20-25 per cent. We are already struggling to recover from the impact of demonetisation, and this development has hit us once again, said a transporter on the condition of not disclosing his name.

Looking at a buoyant future

If the ground reality at the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, and at Faridabad reflects a picture where business has been impacted by GST, union road transport minister Nitin Gadkari is claimed to have said that GST will curtail 14 per cent of the logistics costs the country incurs. Claimed an industry source, that transparency will increase, and bring down the costs incurred by logistics companies by over 20 per cent. Analysts at ICRA forecast that GST will improve the flow of goods due to the disappearance of multiple tax liabilities. They are of the opinion that the turnaround time will drastically improve. Truckers will no longer have to stop at borders, and to pay tax at various levels. With hubs determined on logistical considerations rather than state boundaries according to Prof. G Raghuram, Director, IIM-Bangalore, the hub and spoke model of transportation is expected to turn sharper. If this points at a buoyant future, the shift towards higher tonnage trucks and the need to maintain records is expected to influence a market shift to larger fleets. It is the large fleet operators who will make a large chunk of the organised sector. Organised players will help their customers get input tax credit. This will lead to smooth flow of goods albeit in the form of bigger trucks.

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The e-way bill

Starting October 2017, goods that cost more than Rs.50,000 will have to be pre-booked under GST, and an e-way bill will have to be raised. The e-way bill is aimed at seamless movement of goods between two destinations. The e-way bill will be supported by an infrastructure that involves tax officials who will verify with hand held devices. Currently under development at the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the e-way bills will be valid up to 20 days depending upon the distance to be traveled. This would most likely be one day for 100 km, three days for up to 300 km, five days for up to 500 km, and ten days for up to 1000 km. The central government has already relaxed the time-lime to 20 days (from the earlier 15 days) for a travel of over 1000 km. Even though various states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal already have e-way bill in place, nation wide implementation will call for a frame work of rules. Industry stakeholders are of the opinion that it will take six months for sentiments to improve. For the business to get back to normal, they are divided in their opinion on how long it will take.

Safety at Volvo Trucks

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Intelligent and innovative safety technologies developed by Volvo Trucks promise zero accidents.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Safety is endemic to the Swedish society. It lays much emphasis on accident prevention. If this will help to explain why safety is synonymous with Volvo, which has a long history of establishing safety milestones, at its Experience Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently provided an insight into the safety technologies it has developed. With high commitment to safety, the Swedish truck giant is working on a plethora of technologies that could lead to connected vehicles, and eventually to truly autonomous machines. Present in 68 countries, including India, Volvo Trucks is pro-actively expanding the envelope of automotive safety. With an eye on rising vehicular population, and the resulting challenges, the company is focusing on smart safety technologies like emergency braking and collision warning.

The root of both these technologies lies in accidents where the following vehicle rear-ends the vehicle ahead. The results of which are often disastrous. Underlining the phenomenon of better infrastructure leading to more vehicles and higher traffic speeds, Helene Mellquist, Senior Vice President, Volvo Trucks International, expressed that rear-end collisions account for one-fifth of the overall accidents that involve trucks. “Since November 2015, it is mandatory to equip every two and three-axle trucks with an automatic emergency braking system across the European Union,” she said. According to the EU legislation, the braking system should be effective in slowing down a truck by 10 kmph. The target for next year is 20 kmph. Of the opinion that the amount of jerk that will emanate from such an excercise will cause the driver pain. To avoid this, Volvo Trucks, according to Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic and Products Safety Director, has developed a system that alerts the driver well in advance. If the driver does not pay heed to the warning, the emergency brakes are applied. Mentioned Almqvist, “If you are driving at 80 kmph when the emergency braking system is deployed, there is a need to cut down the speed by more than 20 kmph to avoid a nasty collision because the vehicle ahead has come to a standstill.”

Offering a first-hand feel of the technology on a Volvo FH16 750 carrying a load of over 40-tonnes, the engineers of the company explained how the system works. Noticing another vehicle in front, the truck shed speed from 80 kmph to a standstill in less than 40 m. The braking speed recorded was up to seven-meter per second square. The system, with standard ABS deployed on both the tractor and the trailer, is laced with a camera and radar technology to monitor the vehicular movement ahead of the truck. It is engineered to brave adverse weather conditions. Sensing the risk of a collision, the system gives out a sharp audio warning, closely followed by an escalating lighting combination. If the driver fails to respond, emergency braking is activated. At other times, when the system notices a lack of steering movement, it engages the parking brake in five seconds to avoid a roll over. To warn the following traffic, brakes lights begin to flash.

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Self-driving refuse truck

The self-driving refuse truck Volvo engineers have developed in association with Renova aims for safer, and efficient refuse handling. It provides an insight into how the refuse trucks of tomorrow will be like; how safe they will be. Meant to create a better working environment for drivers, the truck is driven manually the first time it visits a locality. The on-board system constantly monitors and maps the route with the help of sensors and GPS technology. The next time the truck visits the locality, it knows exactly which route to follow, and at which bins to stop. At the first stop with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it exactly the way it is done with a conventional refuse truck. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon receiving the driver’s command. The driver walks the very same route that the truck takes. He thus has a full view of what’s happening in the direction of travel always.

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By reversing the truck, the driver can constantly remain close to the compactor unit instead of having to repeatedly walk between the rear and the cab every time the truck is on the move. And since the driver doesn’t have to climb in and out of the cab at every start and stop, there’s less risk of work related injuries such as strain on the knees and other joints. Carrying the same genetic pattern of autonomous Volvo trucks operating in Kristineberg mine in northern Sweden, the autonomous refuse truck, according to Almqvist, comes to an immediate halt if the sensors monitoring the surrounding area notice another object in close vicinity. The commercial application of such a refuse truck is still some time away. There’s more research to be done, and especially in the wake of the regulation that does not allow trucks to be reversed for reasons of safety. Issues like these, and others need to be addressed. A detailed story on the autonomous refuse truck is featured ahead in the issue.

Platooning

A convoy of three Volvo FH trucks, as part of an exercise to forward the cause of vehicle automation, under the supervision of the Dutch government, travelled from the Volvo headquarters at Gothenburg to Rotterdam in March 2017. As part of the European Union truck platooning challenge, the three Volvo trucks were driven through five countries while communicating wirelessly with each other through cameras and radars. The communication between the trucks was carried out through G5, a special frequency dealing with encrypted data traffic. The frequency enabled either truck to match the speed of the other trucks, which is essential to a platoon. With a one-second gap between the two trucks, the rate of acceleration and deceleration matched. A glimpse of how the system works was had with the camera fitted on the lead truck sending the footage to the two other trucks in the platoon. While the other drivers continued to steer the vehicle, acceleration and braking was automated. Traveling at 80 kmph, the trucks in the platoon maintained a 22 m gap between each other. The seemingly small gap reduced wind drag. Developing autonomous steering as an effort to reach the goal of a truly self-driving truck, Volvo is aware of the associated risks; the need for the drivers to be ready, and to accept it commercially.

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Visibility and driver awareness

Volvo Trucks is working closely with the Swedish Government to impart training to drivers through the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), Lindholmen. VTI, in 2011, inaugurated its Sim IV simulator, which produces a large stroke liner motion in both lateral and longitudinal directions. A system consists of three LCD screens for rear view mirrors and nine projector modules for 180 degree forward field view. It is designed such that it studies the driver reactions and imparts training on maneouvring the truck in different situations. The number of accidents involving trucks has fallen as per the Volvo Trucks Safety Report for 2017. The report has mentioned that there are still a considerable number of drivers who do not wear a seat belt. Highlighting the need to focus on pedestrian safety, and that of the cyclists and motorcycles, the report has emphasized on active safety measures like increased seat belt usage, driver awareness as well as direct and indirect visibility from the cab, driver coaching services that provide direct feedback to the driver, and Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB) system.

The current AEB system as per the legislature, is designed to mitigate or avoid rear-end accidents. It will have to, in the future, include scenarios involving pedestrians and cyclists (VRUs). This would call for detection systems that identify VRUs in close proximity to a truck. Also, Cooperative Intelligent Traffic Systems (C-ITS) that enable communication between vehicles and infrastructure. Opined Peter Wells, Head, Volvo Trucks Accident Research, “Often there are these minor factors that foster a safe environment. They also lead to product improvement.” Volvo engineers have set up cameras that complement the rear view mirrors. The combination of cameras and mirrors is aimed at eliminating the limitations posed by a human eye. “There are blind spots around the truck for a driver. Different traffic situations call for them to be dealt accordingly. It is a joint responsibility of the society to see and be seen to elevate road safety,” averred Almqvist. He concluded, that it is important to educate the young and the adults.

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Connected CVs soon

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CVs in India are speeding down the connected vehicles path.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

The move up to BSIV emission regulations has changed the way technology hereafter will find its way into Indian CVs. The rise in electronic content has opened up so many possibilities, that connected CVs are just a matter of time. Fully autonomous vehicles are still some distance away, the same cannot be said about connected vehicles. The technologies that will help to build a connected CV are already there, and there is no curbing the steady progress. A matter of market acceptance and demand, connected CVs, particularly Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), with an ability to connect to the cloud, will change the way the driver looks at his role. Also set to change is the way a fleet operator and the respective manufacturer will function. Averred Vinod K. Sahay, Chief Executive Officer, Mahindra Trucks and Buses, “We are not far from truly connected CVs. It is the cost that has to be justified.” “Regulatory push makes it easier but the challenge lies with the operation getting the price from the consumer. What goes into a CV someone has to pay for it,” he stated.

Linked with infrastructure development and economic standards, connected CVs will find it easier with the elimination of state border checks. Set to spend increasingly less time off the road, and at truck stops, the opportunity to fine-tune the hub and spoke transportation model only grows, as e-way bills turn into an efficient transporter’s tool, the transport industry, to tide over the shortage of skilled drivers, will increasingly turn to connected vehicles. Faster turnaround time and better planning will be attained. Safety will go up, and encourage the consignor to pay more. If this makes it trickier for skill developers that train CV drivers, connected CVs will not replace the driver. They will make him and the ecosystem around him more efficient. According to Jacques Esculier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Wabco Inc., connected CVs will soon be a reality. Drawing attention to a new strategy developed by his company in that direction, Esculier stated, “We are piloting lane departure warning system for India.” Wabco has acquired a leader in fleet management solutions in Europe. In India, it has developed a product that is essential to connect the trucks to the ground. It simultaneously gathers information on fuel consumption, driver behaviour, etc., and processes as well as transmits it.

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Considering the availability of infrastructure, or the lack of it, and the road manners, Wabco’s piloting of a lane departure warning system hints at the achievement of a significant stage in the development of connected CVs in India. It may draw from a system that is working successfully in Europe or US, for application in India will require much adaptation.Encouraging Wabco to pilot a lane departure warning system is the way traffic on highway moves. Indian highway driving are getting closer to the way Europeans drive on their highways. But then, it is not just about the lane departure system. The advent of ABS has already indicated the rising use of electronics. With efficiency and safety at the core, electronics is rapidly setting the tone for connected CVs. A Frost & Sullivan report, ‘Global Connected Truck Telematics Outlook 2017’ has stated that the growth of internet and GPS enabled solutions has come to incorporate additional value chain participants such as content providers, application providers (for applications like distracted driving), and wireless providers. Mentioned Mamatha Chamarthi, Chief Digital Officer, ZF, that they are looking at many things. Transmissions in CVs for example, that can be connected and monitored to help with remote diagnostics and prognostics. According to ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer, it is about life spent in different ways for the end customer. With the need to comply with occupant safety rising, connected CVs are set to be a reality sooner than later.

Bringing to India a host of technologies like air disc brakes, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), stability control and others, suppliers like Wabco and ZF are striving to ensure that no feature on offer is not adaptable. Stress is on developing functions that specifically address the Indian environment. One development that stands out is Automated Manual Transmission (AMT). It takes away the task of operating the clutch and changing the gears from the driver. Communicating with the engine and the other elements that are electronically powered (ABS, AEB, traction control, etc.) to formulate the right shifting strategy. AMT elevates efficiency, safety and comfort – the three hallmarks of connected vehicles. AMT also adds a dimension to how a connected CV will communicate with the operator and the manufacturer.

For a manufacturer, connected CVs will provide big and valuable data. They will provide data that would help the manufacturer to make reliable vehicles. Vehicles that are smart and profitable. With the time spent on the road by a CV rising, especially in the case of HGVs and long-route buses, the availability of data to manufacturers is helpful in scheduling preventive maintenance, offering quick breakdown support, and in collecting necessary data on vehicle behaviour. For an operator, the connection would ideally indicate where his or her HGV is, about driver behaviour, and more. Offering the driver an opportunity to self evaluate his driving skills, and drive better, a connected CV will also enable a fleet operator to keep tabs; for the insurance company to charge lower premium, or a premium based on wage. Describing connected CVs as a new area of value to the CV industry, and the transportation industry, Esculier averred, “It is a completely new area of value that our industry would provide to fleets.

As connected CVs emerge, the role of the driver will change. He will drive as well as manage the business pertaining to his truck, albeit with the help of his fleet manager until a fully autonomous form is arrived at. If a connected CV will help to lower the insurance premium, a feature like AMT will provide better comfort. AEB and lane departure warning system will improve safety. Telematics will ensure that the operator and manufacturer are informed. The driver, will have knowledge about the route, health of his vehicle, and if he has to alter his driving style or the route. Driver skill development will have to be suitably modified, and dealers will have to modify the way they conduct their business, connected CVs will make an efficient interface that benefits all.

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Apollo LogiSolutions for one stop solution

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Apollo LogiSolutions is keen to play a role of one stop solution in logistics.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Logistical needs in India are on the rise. The proliferation of ecommerce is one of the factors among many others that is providing much thrust. Logistics however has a long way to go in India. In a country like India, the linking of logistics industry’s growth with infrastructure should not come as a surprise. The two complement each other like no other. With much scope for road conditions in the country to improve, it is only logical for logistics solution providers to look at addressing the often conflicting needs of their customers, in doing so lies their ability to create a niche for themselves. Keen to play the role of one stop solution, and serve customised solutions, Apollo LogiSolutions (ALS) is bullish about growth. Avers PSS Prasad, President, ALS, that his company is not a mere transporter. “We are into transportation in a very selective way for end-to-end solutions,” he adds. Stressing upon providing CFS, freight forwarding and custom brokerage services, the company, according to Prasad, is looking at creating a niche for itself through a gamut of services that support quicker and healthier growth. With analysts expecting third party logistics to grow by over 20 per cent till 2018, Prasad is right about creating a niche. He comments, “There is good potential in the logistics market, which remains to a good extent unorganised. There’s much opportunity waiting to be tapped.”

End to end solutions

ALS was established in 2009 at Gurgaon, and is a subsidiary of the Raaja Kanwar-led Apollo International Ltd. In a short span of time, the company spread its wings far and wide. Taking on the challenge to provide end-to-end logistics services on the back of its multi-modal capabilities, ALS operates through three verticals. Offering services like CFS, ICD, custom brokerage, freight forwarding, and contract logistics to various companies from diversified sectors under its 3PL business structure, the company is planning to increase its fleet size to 250 trucks in the next six months. Mentions Prasad, “We have patented truck bodies for specialised movement of Hero two wheelers. As of current, 220 trucks have been entrusted with the task.” Keen to move up to 250 trucks in six months by increasing the container capacity by 20 per cent against the standard containers used by others in the industry, without flouting the road safety norms, ALS, by early next year, is looking at growing its fleet to 300 numbers already. “Whereever there is a dry port, we believe in buying the trailers. Depending upon the location we also work with third party operators as well to boost the logistics business pan-India,” explains Prasad.

For regional support, ALS works with two operators. Centrally, up to four operators stay committed to ALS operations informs Prasad. Also undertaking reverse logistics assignments for companies like Samsung, ITC, and Asian Paints, the company, as a 3PL player, offers warehousing services. “Our warehousing services include various services like kitting, labeling, and even specialised operations like fitting a tyre on to the rim of a two wheeler,” avers Prasad. To allow its customers to work on lean inventories, ALS picks up rims from the factory in China and tyres from Vietnam for the Hero Group. After procuring them, ALS gets them custom cleared in India. The two are assembled at the ALS warehouse before being supplied to the Hero factory. ALS, says Prasad, has 50 warehouses the world over. Of these, 35 warehouses are in India. Of the opinion that it is important to expand strategically, Prasad draws attention to ALS’ joint venture with a German logistics player Fiege.

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ALS-Fiege JV

The ALS-Fiege JV was established in 2012. The resultant company, Apollo Fiege Integrated Logistics, focuses on generic business of freight forwarding through air and ocean along with secured short-term storage for valuables in transit, and customs brokerage where the company will assist customers to interface with the customs department during shipment imports or exports as per various classifications, contract logistics and transportation services. Touching upon Fiege bringing with it 140 years of industry experience, Prasad avers that Apollo Fiege Integrated service platform is outfitted with operational expertise and solution capabilities across the entire logistics spectrum catering to freight forwarding, customs clearance, projects and other 3PL logistics requirements through its vast global network. “Enabling us to access the latest technology in logistics, the participation of Fiege also brings with it the advantage of having a presence in 70 countries, and across 200 locations,” says Prasad. Under its asset heavy business, the company has got four dry ports out out of which the one in Panvel is directly owned by the flagship company. For strengthening its presence in Sourthern India, ALS acquired Chennai based logistics company, Kailash Shipping Services, in 2013. ALS has also strengthened its capabilities in handling export-import containers, refrigerated cargo and warehousing. States Prasad, “We also have two dry ports in Tuticorin and Katupalli respectively.” “We are awaiting approvals to commence operations,” he adds. For 3PL logistics and freight forwarding services, ALS acquired a controlling stake in a firm called Freight Reach with presence in the Middle East and Africa. “With most of the automobile manufacturers including Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland exporting to Africa, it made sense to expand our reach,” expresses Prasad.

Staying ahead

Applying good deal of emphasis on technology to stay ahead, ALS, according to Prasad, is driving its end-to-end logistics solution business with the help of its joint venture with Lycos. As a technology company, Lycos allows ALS to help its clients with end-to-end logistics solutions in the area of ecommerce especially. Opines Prasad, that in the logistics business, it is more or less similar as far as operations are concerned. What makes a difference is technology. With Lycos on board, ALS is helping global brands to deploy e-commerce platforms that target Indian customers. ALS clients include 612 league and Kyo creations. “Anybody who wants to get on the ecommerce bandwagon, we can hook its operation in a day’s time. This capability of our will indirectly help us with our logistics side of the business. It is no surprise that we would like to be their logistics partner as well,” stated Prasad. For increasing reach in dry port services, ALS acquired Wifin Technologies in 2016. The company has also partnered with CargoWise for freight forwarding. This, says Prasad, is allowing us to develop mobile apps like Mobizee, Billijee, and Purplepatch for ecommerce logistics.

For an improved ecosystem

With increasing radialisation and better roads, Prasad feels that the hub and spoke model in India will gain momentum soon. As the length of the vehicle is increasing, improvement in highways in many parts of India has also reduced time in transit and costs for the cargo movement, he points out. This Prasad opines will get a boost once GST gets fully implemented which may lead to 30-40 per cent fall in frieght times and up to 30 per cent reduction in logistics costs. “Transportation under GST will make more sense as monitoring of the truck at every stage will be much easier. It will also reduce inventories to large extent which will benefit the economy in the long run,” said Prasad. He feels substantial results might not arrive soon as there might be a dip, but things will gradually improve. “It may not affect the cost which we have to see in the long run. But if you are using a good infrastructure you have to pay for it,” stressed Prasad.

Startups and Automation

Highlighting transparency and lack of will as a serious issue in logistics, Prasad points out that real time access to information on goods movement aids building of trust between the company and the clients. “A large part of cargo is still transported by road as it happens to be cheaper than railways. Any reduction in manpower dependence is beneficial,” he states. Mentioning that CFS needs 20 approvals, Prasad opines that there is a need for a single window clearance system. Prasad draws attention to the fact that the logistics industry has its aspects coming under ministries. This, he avers, leads to inefficiencies. With startups in logistics sector coming up and vanishing like wild mushrooms, Prasad is of the opinion that large flow of funds is spoiling startups, and calls for building up of a sustainable business model. Terming the constant change in taxation structure as detrimental to the growth of the logistics industry, Prasad calls for better channeling of forex reserves for faster development

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Moving forward

ALS recorded a revenue of Rs.800 crore in FY2016-17. By 2020, the company aims to quadruple it. This, it plans to achieve through organic and inorganic growth. Setting aside Rs.200 crore for acquisitions, the company, according to Prasad, has been growing at a CAGR of 50 per cent for the last few years. With thrust to continue on exim services and freight forwarding, the company is keen to enter the area of cold chain. Avers Prasad, “Cold chain is one area that we are thinking of.” “Without full fledged transport support it is not going to be helpful though,” he adds. Having a cold storage setup at Panvel for select goods that require temperature controlled containers, the company, concludes Prasad, will require to ramp up cold chain infrastructure, which would call for an amount of investment in the future.”